The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

By refusing to sell chocolates in the annual school sale, one high school freshman learns whether or not his universe can bear to be shaken.

The Chocolate War is the first of my books for the Banned Books Challenge, hosted by The Pelham Library. I have read Cormier’s books a number of times since first encountering them in middle school, and I’m still amazed at the power that they have to shock, wound, and enlighten.

Cormier has created a believable world where conformity is enforced by a group of students known as the Vigils, operating with the tacit permission of the brothers who run the Catholic all-boys school. When Jerry bucks the Vigils, he also bucks the brothers–and watching them turn his courageous act against him is a master depiction of psychological warfare. And while Jerry’s plight is extreme, the sort of tactics employed against him are familiar to anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of this kind of emotional manipulation.

The sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War, takes place a few months later, and while it has some schocking scenes, I don’t recall it having the same kind of visceral power as The Chocolate War.

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