The Chocolate War
by Robert Comier
One of the 15 point tasks for the Winter Book Challenge was to read a frequently banned or challenged book. I really wanted to read something that I hadn't read yet, or hadn't even heard of before. Looking through the lists, I found The Chocolate War and decided to read it because I wanted to know why people got so worried about exposing our youth to this book. It turns up as #2 on the most challenged books of 2007 list. I like to think that challenging books is a thing from the past, like people today have GOT to have enough sense to know that first, removing a book from a school library isn't going to stop interested kids in reading it, and second that just because someone reads a book doesn't mean they are going to get "bad ideas" from it. But no, people still challenge and try to remove books from libraries today. I have this crazy idea that all previously challenged books should be on school curriculum because then, as the student is reading it, they can discuss what the controversial parts are and how they are feeling about the book. But maybe that's just me...
Anyways, on to the book. The Chocolate War is about a kid named Jerry Renault who is a freshman at Trinity Catholic High School. Every year, the school puts on a chocolate sale to raise money for the school (so tuition rates don't increase, etc.). This year, the students are "asked" to sell twice as many boxes as the year before (50 instead of 25) at double the price ($2 instead of $1). Brother Leon, who is filling in at the headmaster position while the actual headmaster is ill, is heading up the sale and asked the school's secret society, The Vigils, to back the sale. The Vigils aren't publicly talked about throughout the school. They are a small group of students who make "assignments" for other students that include ridiculous pranks, such as loosening every screw in a classroom so that every desk, chair, and even the chalk board falls apart when touched. The Vigils are basically untouchable. No teacher speaks their name, no student defies them, and no one gets caught.
One day, Jerry gets a message for an assignment from The Vigils. He's suppose to say "no" to selling the chocolates for 10 days. For some reason, which Jerry himself can't even put into words, he continues to say "no" to the chocolate sale. He is defying Brother Leon (who is kind of terrifying), The Vigils, and, by the end, the whole school. All the while, the poster in the back of Jerry's locker is asking "Do we dare disturb the universe?"
This novel was fantastic. It was tough, and real, and kind of gritty. Nothing was perfect for any of the characters so they were all very realistic. Was there violence, strong language, and sexual references? Well, yea, in some parts. But there were also some strong, important messages. Any teenager in high school now would have already been exposed to all that there is in this book, whether the parents choose to acknowledge it or not. I think that someone struggling to fit in at their high school could get a lot out of a novel about someone who defies the crowd.
9 out of 10 stars.