by Mary Barker, Director of Research Systems
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Chocolate War was published in 1974. It has been on the list of most challenged books since the American Library Association started keeping track of them in 1990. In fact, The Chocolate War was the 4th most challenged book of the 1990-1999 decade, and the 3rd most challenged book of the 2000-2009 decade. A few years ago I became curious about why this book was always under attack, so I read it.
The book is about Jerry, a new freshman at an all boys’ Catholic high school, and Archie, the leader of a secret society called The Vigils. The Vigils terrorize the rest of the students through psychological warfare and bullying. Jerry decides to take a stand and not be bullied into selling chocolates during the annual chocolate sale fundraiser. Brother Leon, the acting headmaster, desperate for money, encourages Archie to make Jerry conform. In the end Jerry gets the crap beat out of him. Badly. There is no happy ending in this book. The description of the fight scene and the meanness and bloodlust of the other students made me sick to my stomach. I was horrified!
This semester The Chocolate War is assigned reading for my 8th grade daughter, and I’m okay with that. Why? Because bullies like Archie and his group of mindless followers do exist, and because trusted adults, like teachers, can let you down. It is easier to encounter and deal with these truths in the safety of fictional stories. Shielding children and young adults from literature depicting the realities of life does not make them strong adults. It makes them ignorant and unprepared to deal with the world’s real Archies.