Banned Books Awareness Week: The Chocolate War ~ Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War

THE BOOK:  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.

THE AUTHOR:  robert-cormier-1Robert Cormier was an American author and journalist, known for his novels/stories that have pessimistic themes. He authored ten major novels and several short stories, most of which are specifically for young adults. Although he did not enjoy initial commercial success, he always received immense critical acclaim. His novels and short stories are centred on themes of abuse, betrayal, mental illness, violence, and revenge. Another interesting feature in his novels is that good may not necessarily win over evil. This tendency of his novels to stress on the ‘negative’ led to the rejection of his publications from educational institutions and library lists. However, the author and several critics have explained his works as simply a realistic depiction of human nature. Owing to stories’ dark controversial nature, some of his works were initially banned. However, with time they have been accepted into mainstream publication houses and have also been translated into many languages. His works now appear frequently on the list of ‘Best Books for Young Adults’ of the American Library Association and are often recommended in the New York Times and School Library Journal.

THE CHALLENGES (courtesy of Marshall University):

2010 – Challenged and/or banned for nudity, offensive language, being sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.

2008 – Initially removed from Harford County (MD) High School curriculum due to vulgar language overshadowing anti-bullying message, but in November 2007, the school superintendent reversed the ban to allow the use of the book in classes dealing with harassment for which all parents have signed permission slips. Challenged as optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego (OR) Junior High School because the novel is “peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence.” Challenged in the Coeur d’Alene (ID) School district where parents say the book, along with 5 other, should require parental permission for students to read them. Challenged as required reading for 7th-grade students at the John H. Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago (IL). Challenged at the Northridge School District in Johnstown (OH) because “if these books were a movie, they would be rated R, why should we encourage them to read these books.”

2007 – Challenged, but retained in the West Hartford (CN) schools. Parents of a King Philip Middle School eighth grader thought the language, sexual content, and violence made the book PG-13. Challenged in the Wake County (NC) schools because the book has “vulgar and sexually explicit language.” Parents are getting help from Called2Action, a Christian group that says its mission is to “promote and defend our shared family and social values.”

2006 – Challenged for sexual content and offensive language.

2005 – Challenged for sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoint, being unsuited to age group and violence.

2003 – Challenged in Fairfax (VA) school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools for “profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture”.

2002 – Challenged for profanity, scenes of masturbation and sexual fantasy along with segments denigrating to girls.

2001 – Challenged in York County (VA) for sexually explicit language. Retained as optional reading for eighth graders in Girard (PA) despite a grandmother finding the book offensive and not wanting her grand-daughter reading it. Challenged for being on the eighth grade reading list of Lancaster (MA) school district for language and content. Challenged at a Lisbon (OH) board of education meeting as a “pornographic” book that should be removed from high school English classes.


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