'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Review: The Chocolate War

The title sounds sweet – but the novel is unremittingly dark. And I don’t mean 95% cocoa. This novel portrays the brutal treatment meted out to anybody who dares to buck the system.

Jerry Renault is a student at a private school. He has not done anything previously that makes him stand out from the crowd, but he picks the wrong time to test himself. 

The new principal, Brother Leon, has upped the ante in the school fundraising, over-ordering chocolate bars thereby requiring a doubling of sales from the previous year. He therefore insists upon each student meeting large sales quotas, and enlists the assistance of the Vigils, the secret society to encourage (by whatever means) that the students fall into line.

At first, Jerry is dared to not sell any chocolates for a few days. He happily takes on the challenge, but once the time has elapsed, Jerry doubles down and continues on his rebellion, refusing to participate because he simply does not agree.

When a sociopath stakes their reputation upon a certain outcome as the mark of success, then beware anyone who stands in their way. Jerry was always in a no-win situation.

This novel depicts the physical and psychological torture that kids can unleash upon each other – think of Lord of the Flies but with an adult in the background enabling the bullies.

Jerry is given the full scapegoat system. Cormier demonstrates how effective the smallest – and largest - humiliations and cruelties can be at demoralising, isolating and eventually eroding the trend bucker. The fight scenes are graphic and visceral.

This novel made me remember the advice given to those who are unfortunate to encounter workplace sociopaths: to not openly defy them. Just do what it takes to cut your losses and leave with your sanity intact. It’s not a game that can be won. 

Take this novel as a warning about what not to do. It’s not a comfortable read, but an important one.

Title: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Penguin, $16.99 
Publication Date:  October, 2004
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780141312514
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction