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The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Chocolate War
. Published in 1974.
"The Goober nodded, accepting the assignment like a sentence of doom, the way all the others did, knowing there was no way out, no reprieve, no appeal. The law of the Vigils was final, everyone at Trinity knew that."
Life at Trinity, an all-boys preparatory school, is much like living in a world reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The Vigils are a secretive group who remain behind the scenes, who "exude a large amount of influence over the school" (29). They are led by Archie Costello, a brash, mean-spirited senior who relishes in manipulating everyone around him. He fulfills his role as the Assigner in the Vigils by selecting random students from outside the "brotherhood" to do assignments, or devious tasks of his design "that had made [Archie] practically a legend at Trinity" (9). Secretly, everyone, including members of the Vigils, despises Archie and cannot stand his devious ways and how he sees himself as more superior than the rest of the student population. Numerous people refer to him as a "bastard," including several of his fellow Vigil members.
The story begins with Brother Leon's promotion to interim Headmaster in light of the current Headmaster's illness. In an effort to make himself look good as Headmaster, Leon asks Archie for the support of the Vigils to sell an obscene amount of chocolate for the annual school fundraiser. Leon is adamant that all the chocolate must be sold, even though the numbers are staggering: fifty boxes per student.
As the sale is set to begin, Archie decides to give an assignment to a freshman quarterback named Jerry to refuse to sell his chocolate for ten days before finally agreeing to sell the desired number of boxes. Jerry follows his directions, but after the ten days finish, he continues to refuse to sell the chocolates. While Jerry is admired for his determination and defiance, he goes through an internal moral dilemma, constantly questioning he should "dare disturb the universe" of Trinity (129). Brother Leon eventually calls on Archie, reminding him of the pact they had made in weeks prior. Archie responds, claiming that "nobody defies the Vigils...and gets away with it" (148). Jerry must now decide whether he should continue to stand up to the Vigils or fall in line with the masses.
Robert Cormier does an excellent job in exaggerating the high school experience and adopting a unique take on a common experience. Additionally, Cormier creates characters that come to life and capture the essence of what it is to a teenager in an environment like Trinity. Throughout the story, Cormier allows the reader to follow several different characters, including Jerry, Archie, The Goober, and several other boys to understand the full scope of the school's inner workings and the forces at play throughout the tale. The novel is very well written and perfect for anyone to relive their adolescence or someone still enduring the throes of teenage angst. The pacing is excellent, with appropriate stops in action for reflection, but it does not linger unnecessarily on any scene. The story is also true to life, allowing the reader to easily immerse him or herself into the story as a fellow student at Trinity.
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