The Chocolate War

cover image for The Chocolate WarCormier, Robert. (1974) The Chocolate War. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Plot Summary:

Every student at Trinity has a quota: sell 50 boxes a chocolates.  If you don’t you’ll have to answer not just to the teachers, but to the Vigils, the not-so-secret society that lives to terrorize their fellow students.  As Jerry Renault contemplates his mother’s recent death, his father’s emotional absence, and the poster in his locker that queries: “Do I dare disturb the Universe?” he decides that his answer is “yes, I do, I do. I think.”   As Jerry’s refusal to sell the chocolates catches on among his fellow students, Jerry ends up taking on more then even he bargained for.

Critical Evaluation:

Cromier’s most celebrated novel, The Chocolate War is bleak and disturbing, much like high school itself can be.  It’s not only full of unlikable characters and impossible situations, it more notably refuses to offer hope – a choice that is still unique among young adult fiction, which tends to offer a silver lining even after the darkest of storms.  Yet it does provide inspiration and thoughtfulness, for what kind of heroes would our heroes be if they only dared to disturb the universe when they thought they would be rewarded for it?

Reader’s Annotation:

Who knew that refusing to sell candy bars would be so dangerous?

Author Information:

Cormier, sadly, is no longer with us.



Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a good story to pose a series of questions along the lines of “have you ever…?”  While The Chocolate War is still very pertinent and popular, it’s also nearly have a century old and many students could probably use convincing that they will indeed relate to Jerry and his struggles.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/13-16

Possible Controversy:

The Chocolate War has been frequently challenged since it was first published – and was still in the top five most frequently challenged books of the last two decades. Generally the objections are too the language, violence, mentions of sex, and the incredibly depressing ending.  Thankfully, it is also now considered a classic and there are plenty of sources to use for dealing wit any challenges.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

While I reread it this time around simply because it was assigned, the first time I picked it up as a young teen I did so because I it sounded like such a “boy” story – a serious one, not an adventure story, which I read all the time – and I was curious.  And more than a little shocked at how mean so many of the boys were.  (I don’t think I had quite yet read Lord of the Flies.)


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