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The Chocolate War (book)

“The Chocolate War” and “Beyond the Chocolate War”

By Robert Cormier

The first thing you need to know about the Chocolate War is that it’s not about a Chocolate War. Well’okay, so there is a “chocolate war,” that occurs in the book, but that’s not why you’ll be reading it. Calling this book Chocolate War is like renaming the Civil War “The Battle of Gettysburg.” Gettysburg is perhaps the most well-known battle in the Civil War, but the title is not inclusive enough.

The second thing you need to know is that while they might seem to be two separate books, written years apart, this is just an illusion, and you are wrong. Really, these “two books” are to be considered as one. So if you decide to read the Chocolate War, my advice is to read both “The Chocolate War” and “Beyond the Chocolate War” as if they were Part I and Part II of a book, and in the review I will be referring to them as such.

So, what are we reading this for? Well, first I’ll tell you what I hoped I would be reading for. I hated high school, you see; truly, deeply, and self-deprecatingly hated it. I won’t go too deeply into that hatred here. However, I came across The Chocolate War (TCW) and saw in the description on back that it was about a kid who refused to participate in a school’s annual chocolate sale, and the repercussions of his revolt. So I thought to myself, “Hey! This is a book about a kid who stands up against high school, doesn’t back down, succeeds, and in doing so points out some of the greatest flaws in high school! And, naturally, I can therefore live out my own failed dreams vicariously through him!”

Does the book expose flaws in high school? Well, every now and then, but it is not the reason why you read and enjoy TCW. Neither is the chocolate war the main focus, despite what the title may lead you to believe. Neither, in fact, is the protagonist the reason you read TCW.

OK, OK: I’ve been talking on and on about what this book is *not.

So here it is, I’ll tell you why you read TCW: the bad guys.

Bad Guy #1: Brother Eugene. The high school is some sort of private Catholic school, and so the teachers are all “Brother This” and “Brother That.” Brother Eugene is the headmaster and a science teacher and’the antichrist. Take all the very worst, most hateful, mean-spirited, selfish, power-hungry chracteristics of all the worst teachers you’ve ever had, roll them into one evil, evil man, and you’ve got Brother Eugene. Two of the most intense scenes in the novels involved Brother Eugene. The first is a scene where he calls on the nicest, brightest kid in the class and has him stand up in front of everyone else. Then, for several minutes, he accuses him of cheating merely because his scores are ‘too good to be true.’ I kid you not, this entire scene my muscles were clenched and my eyes were narrow as I imagined my hatred for this man.

The other scene is near the end of Part II. Near the end of Part I, Brother Eugene blackmailed the school’s valedictorian into turning someone in by giving the valedictorian an “F” on a paper. Even though the kid played along, his grade was never fixed. The “F” ruined this kids life’he was working for three years on being the valedictorian and had been taken out of the running merely because Brother Eugene was an asshole. Anyway, the kid gets so depressed, isolated, crazy, and tries to murder Brother Eugene and then commit suicide.

The author did an incredible job of making the readers HATE Brother Eugene. I’m a nice guy, myself’I don’t stay angry at people very long, I don’t lose my temper much, and I don’t really ever want to hurt anyone’.but’while reading this book’I wanted Brother Eugene to die. When you read this book you will perhaps be as excited and nervous as I was when this valedictorian decides to try to kill him.

Bad Guy #2: Archie Costello. Archie Costello gets far more face time in the book than any other character, including the protagonist. In fact, I’ll tell you now, the protagonist is kind of boring, kind of weak, and not very interesting’but don’t worry, the author knows this too, and that’s why he spends most of his time talking about Archie Costello. Because Archie is an evil genius. In fact, you might have to suspend your disbelief for a moment when you remember that Archie is only supposed to be a senior in high school. Just forget that, and believe that someone could be so smart, and so cruel as he.

Archie is the leader of a sort of secret organization of students at Monument High School that picks on weak kids (like the protagonist). The gang calls themselves “The Vigils” and they pick younger kids and make them do school pranks like loosen every screw in a classroom so that the next day in class all the desks and chairs collapse and chaos ensues. They also organize things like a day where the entire student body skips class on a certain day except one kid’the kid they’re picking on. But it’s more than just pranks to Archie, the evil genius. He is a bastard. Everyone is afraid of him’even the other members of the Vigils’because what he does best is humiliate you, make you feel weak and stupid, call your bluffs, and manipulate you to inadvertently do his bidding’and he does it to everyone around him, no one is safe.

Everyone wants Archie to fail’his best friends, his worst enemies, and even you the reader are just waiting, hoping that he will lose. Every time he speaks, you want him to slip up, mess up, fail’but he doesn’t. He just keeps on winning and winning, and everything works out his way.

What happens in TCW is that you build a bond with all the ‘good’ characters in the novel because you share their hatred, fear, and distrust of Brother Eugene and Archie’and it doesn’t help that Brother Eugene and Archie’headmaster and leader of the vigils’begin to team up, working together to make every other student docile with fear in the school both of them think they run. That’s why you read The Chocolate War’or at least why you should.

So forget what it says on the back of book, here’s my synopsis:

“In a small, private catholic school in Massachusettes, two people rule over the students using manipulation, humiliation, and fear. The first is senior Archie Costello, head of a group of organized school bullies that force younger kids into pulling pranks against the school and against each other. The other is teacher Brother Eguene: no student is safe from his authority, cruelty, and watching eyes. This is the story of Archie’s senior year, and Eugene’s first year as headmaster–both in their new positions of power, they wage war against the students, and sometimes each other, to determine who really runs Monument High School.”

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Comments»

1. poopgirl - August 25, 2012

dont u mean brother leon.. not brother eugene…


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