Freedom to Read Week

March 18, 2013

February 24 marked the beginning of Freedom to Read Week in Canada; the U.S.A. has a similar week in October, Banned Book Week. These events celebrate our right to read whatever we want.
In honor of this week and our friends to the north, south if you live in the Detroit area, I read a book that has been challenged or banned pretty much ever since it was published and continues to be today. Published in 1974, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is a young adult book. Teachers at the 1975 National Council of English Teachers Convention applauded the book, calling it “Watergate at the high school level” (Baldassarro 2012). When the American Library Association (ALA) released their list of the 100 most commonly challenged books from 1990-1999 The Chocolate War was number four on the list. Ten years later when the ALA released their list of the 100 most commonly challenged books from 2000-2009 it had moved up one spot to number 3 (ALA 1999; 2009).

Here is a short, spoiler free synopsis of the book:
Jerry Renault is a freshman at Trinity, a private Catholic high school. He refuses to sell chocolate in the annual school fundraiser, which may not seem very radical but through doing so he challenges a secret school society called The Vigils and their leader, Archie. What ensues is an all out war and the only question: Who will survive (Cormier 1974)?

Why it has been Banned/Challenged:
When I started reading the book I immediately noticed the language. The teenage characters use curse words. While this does not bother me, I know my parents probably would not have wanted me reading a book with such foul language, as they would put it, when I was a teenager, the book’s main audience. However, they would not have demanded the books be removed from the shelves, they would just tell me not to read it. There is also some sexual content nothing too graphic; it is on the teenage level. The main thing that probably makes this an often banned/challenged book is the violence. There are teenage boys getting beaten and the adult figures in the book do nothing to stop it. There is also no comeuppance for the main bully, Archie, who quite frankly sounds like a bit of a sociopath. I can definitely see why this books has been banned/challenged. Though I do not condone banning books and believe anyone who wants to read a book should be able to read it. If you do not agree with something in a book, do not read it. Do not take the book away from the rest of us by having it banned. Ok, that is enough of me on my soapbox.

Thoughts on the Book
I will admit, I did not enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. This had nothing to do with the content that made it a banned/challenged book, I just could not really get into it. I still may read the sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War, because there was an open ending to the Chocolate War, which I do not typically like. So I may need to read the sequel to see what happens next.

References

American Library Association. (1999). Top 100 banned/challenged books: 1990-1999. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/1990_1999

American Library Association. (2009). Top 100 banned/challenged books: 2000-2009. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009

Baldassarro R. Wolf. (March 12, 2012). Banned book awareness: “The chocolate war.” Retrieved from http://bannedbooks.world.edu/2012/03/12/banned-books-awareness-chocolate-war/.

Cormier, R. (1974). The chocolate war. New York, USA: Random House.

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