Friday, July 20, 2012

The Chocolate War

Why someone would take an assault rifle into a theatre to take out his anger on people he does not even know is far beyond my imagining.  And yet, more and more these real stories of violence are hitting us day after day, one killing after another, young people going so far over the edge of normal that they take other's lives.  It is a violent world we live in.

Which is one reason that people escape into the world of books.

What makes any book compelling is the depth of the characters, and the journey you go on with those characters.  By current standards what makes a Young Adult novel worthy is a positive resolution at the end that allows you to feel like you came away with a deeper sense of what is good in the world.  The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, was one of the first books in the YA genre. 

As I began reading this book, I noticed immediately Cormier's skill at evoking feeling and crafting a tale.  I was deeply drawn in to the plight of young Jerry Renault, and the despicable cast of characters who set out to destroy him. The story is full of negative acts, painful reminders, and characters who make you want to scream.  As foreboding and negative events transpired I kept reading, knowing for sure that by the end, the tide would turn and young Jerry would undoubtedly be saved. 

The Chocolate War, however, was written in 1974.  And the mold for our current escapist YA novels had not yet been made.  At the end, no one is saved.  There is no redemption, no pretty package that gets all tied up in a neat little bow to remind us that it's all going to be ok. It is violent and dark and scary.  In the end, the bad guys win.   

I finished this book and was left feeling desperately angry. This had not been an escape away from the violent world in which I live, it was a dive deeper into grit. This pointed a finger at reality, and left all the superheroes at home.

I suppose it could be said that Cormier wanted to show very vividly the darkness of people, and the fight that goodness has in opposition to that. In reading such a story, you, the reader, would come to know more deeply on which side you stood. 

I think however, that he simply wanted to say that sometimes life sucks.  People suffer.  People hurt each other. We can write all the stories we want about the bad guys and glorify their violence on the big screen, and hold unrealistic standards for the super heroes who might save us, and then wrap it all up nicely so that we leave the story feeling good.  But that is not life. 

They may have caught the guy who killed those people today, but his violent actions live on.  The people he killed are still dead.  No superhero came to save them last night and their families have to live with that loss for the rest of their days. Sure, good things will come around and everyone will move forward and laugh and smile again, but some days, no matter how much we want to escape it, the truth is that darkness wins.   

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