Welcome to this month’s Banned Books feature. This month Beth and I have read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.
Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier’s groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.
First published: 1974
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2009 (source)
Chosen by: Beth
Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: Hmmm, this is a difficult one. Perhaps because it was a bit controversial for the 1970’s yes. I thought it was a very interesting book and sent a brave message out there but I just can’t imagine it being taught in classrooms especially back then. I certainly can’t picture a teacher reading out certain parts of the book:
“Then she brushed past him again – that was the night he’d bought her the earrings – and he knew it wasn’t an accident. He’d felt himself hardening and was suddenly ashamed and embarrassed and deliriously happy all at the same time.”
See what I mean?
CHRISSI: I can see why it was banned, merely because of the language/nature of the book. It’s quite blunt in places, but to be honest, this book doesn’t expose teenagers/young adults to anything that they haven’t heard before. Like many of the books we’ve read for this feature, it would take a brave teacher to read this with a class. I can just hear some of the sniggering that would go on. I can certainly recognise that some parents and school boards would be very uncomfortable with their teens reading this. Are we underestimating the maturity of teens? Perhaps.
How about now?
BETH: I agree with Chrissi that this book doesn’t expose kids to anything they haven’t heard previously in their daily lives. What I think it does do is introduce a new way of thinking about the world that perhaps they haven’t realised before. As I said in the last question, I can’t imagine it being taught in classrooms (if it is, great!) but it’s a fantastic book that teachers can recommend to teenagers to seek out and read in their own time and perhaps discuss their thoughts and opinions with other students at a later date.
CHRISSI: I don’t think this book exposes anything new to young adults so I don’t see why it continues to be banned. Most teenagers I know would feel more compelled to read this knowing that its banned. Making a big deal out of books like this actually is ironic, because teenagers end up wanting to read it even more…If it was dealt with in the classroom then perhaps the issues included could be addressed in a more mature manner. It would certainly encourage some interesting conversations/debates. Would a teacher take it on? I’m not so sure.
What did you think of this book?
BETH: This book was really interesting. In the Introduction the author says that the book was initially rejected by seven major publishers. Why? It was thought “too complicated for teenagers. Far too many characters and a downbeat ending which teenagers of the 1970’s would find difficult to accept.” My first thoughts on reading this is that they seem to be both predicting what teenagers would think and under-estimating them without even giving them a chance! Some parts of the book were quite dark it’s true and although it is a harsh reality to face that life sometimes isn’t fair, at least the book is honest and I think most teenagers would appreciate that.
CHRISSI: I thought that it was a well written and interesting book. It’s incredibly dark in places. It’s not a book that I would necessarily revisit, but I thought it was interesting enough and thought provoking!
Would you recommend it?