The school year is almost at an end, and the chocolate sale is past history. But no one at Trinity School can forget The Chocolate War.
Devious Archie Costello, commander of the secret school organizationcalled the Virgils, stall has some torturous assignments to hand out before he graduates. In spite of this pleasure, Archie is troubled by his right-hand man, Obie, who has started to move away from the Virgils. Luckily Archie knows his stooges will fix that. But won't Archie be shocked when he discovers the surprise Obie has waiting for him?
And there are surprises waiting for others. The time for revenge has come to those boys who secretly suffered the trials of Trinity. The fuse is set for the final explosion. Who will survive?
Ray Banister started to build the guillotine the day Jerry Renault returned to Monument.
There was no connection between the two events. In fact, Ray Bannister didn't even know Jerry Renault existed. The truth of the matter is that Ray began to construct the guillotine out of sheer boredom. More than boredom: loneliness, restlessness. He was a newcomer to Monument and to Trinity High. He hated both—well, maybe hate was too strong a word, but he found Monument to be a dull and ugly mill town of drab tenement houses and grim factories, with no class at all, a terrible contrast to Caleb, the resort village on Cape Cod where he'd grown up with beach sand between his toes and salt spray stinging his cheeks. Trinity was a suffocatingly small school, filled with guys who were suspicious of strangers or, at the very least, unfriendly. The Headmaster and the teachers were brothers, those strange people who wore stiff white collars but weren't quite priests and yet weren't quite like ordinary men. Ray's father insisted that brothers made the ideal teachers, dedicated and loyal to education. They have nothing to distract them, his father said. They don't have to worry about earning a big salary—the Order takes care of all their needs—and they don't' have wives or children to support, except maybe a girl friend or two in these crazy, liberal times. That last remark was supposed to pass for wit: Ray Bannister's father was renowned for his wit at cocktail parties, but Ray, frankly, didn't find him amusing at all. Particularly since he'd accepted the company promotion that meant a transfer from the Cape to this rotten city in the middle of New England.
Ray had always been a loner, even on the Cape, where he had spent long hours roaming the beaches and dunes or sailing his beloved skiff in the warm waters south of Caleb. In a fit of disgust and disillusionment, he'd practically given his boat away, sold it for a quarter of its worth to Joe Scerra, his best friend in Caleb. Ray had built the boat himself, lovingly, knew every section and area of its surface just as he knew the tone and texture of his own body.
Monument looked as if sailing weather didn't exist. Snow melted on the Cape as soon as it kissed the land; Ray was dismayed to find Monument covered with the dirty rags of old snow when he arrived in February. The landscape of city streets was bleak and forbidding, like a movie set from one of those old late-night films about the Depression. Lonely, unable to make friends at Trinity and not really trying very hard, Ray pursued his interest in magic. His father, who had been an amateur magician years ago, had given him a magic kit for Christmas as a kind of bribe to compensate for the transfer to Monument. At first Ray had only gone through the motions of showing interest. But, bored and restless, he began to fool around with the kit and found, to his surprise, that the tricks were not merely kid stuff but sophisticated and challenging, almost professional. He discovered the Stripper Deck and the Cups and Balls and the Silk Scarves and soon found himself adept at sleight of hand. With no one to entertain, he performed before the mirror in his bedroom.
As winter changed into spring or, rather, as the grayness of February and March yielded to the soft yellow of April, Ray grew bored with the simple finger tricks. He rummaged around the cellar, remembering that his father had all kinds of paraphernalia left over from his days as an entertainer at club and organization parties when Ray himself was just a kid. His father had carefully packed the stuff away when they had moved to Monument. During his search, Ray came across an old cardboard box that contained complicated tricks and effects he couldn't do anything with because there were no directions. Then he discovered an old leather-bound book, copyright 1922, that provided instructions for hundreds of magic effects. The book included plans and illustrations for various stage illusions, like levitation and disappearances. Ray was disappointed to learn the secrets of the illusions, how mechanical they were. He thought: There's no magic, really, anywhere in the world. It was like finding out there was no Santa Claus.
The plans for guillotine attracted his immediate attention, however. The secret was so simple and yet so effective. He imagined himself on the stage in the Trinity auditorium, performing for the student body—"May I have a volunteer from the audience?"—and hearing the guys gasp with astonishment as the blade fell, seeming to penetrate the volunteer's neck. Ray's hands itched to build the guillotine, just as they had itched to build his skiff. He'd always been clever with his hands. In fact, his father had said that he hated the idea of squandering money on Ray's college education when he'd probably do better as a carpenter—and a carpenter didn't need a college degree.
At any rate, lonely, indifferent to both Monument and Trinity, tired of the perennial gray clouds that haunted the early days of spring, wistful for those bikini girls who would be emerging on Caleb's beaches any day now, Ray Bannister assembled his tools and the lumber required to build the guillotine. He bought the blade at a magic store in Worcester. And, as he told Obie later: Honest, he'd never heard of Jerry Renault or Archie Costello or any of the others.
Excerpted from Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. . Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Robert Cormier
“I can’t remember a time, really, when I haven’t been a writer. . . . Reading and writing were the two great escapes of my life and I suppose they still are.”—Robert Cormier
Robert Cormier is a Margaret A. Edwards Award winner, and his books repeatedly appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association, The New York Times, and School Library Journal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Cormier (pronounced kor-MEER) lived all his life in Leominster, Massachusetts, a small town in the north-central part of the state, where he grew up as part of a close, warm community of French Canadian immigrants and lived with his wife, Connie, also from Leominster, and where they raised their three daughters and one son—all adults now. They never saw a reason to leave. “There are lots of untold stories right here on Main Street,” Cormier once said.
A newspaper reporter and columnist for 30 years (working for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Fitchburg Sentinel), Cormier was often inspired by news stories. What makes his works unique is his ability to make evil behavior understandable, though, of course, still evil. “I’m very much interested in intimidation,” he told an interviewer from School Library Journal. “And the way people manipulate other people. And the obvious abuse of authority.” All of these themes are evident in his young adult classic and best-known book, The Chocolate War. A 15-year-old fan of Cormier’s told him, “You always write from inside the person.”
Cormier traveled the world, from Australia (where he felt particularly thrilled by putting his hand in the Indian Ocean) and New Zealand to most of the countries in Europe, speaking at schools, colleges, and universities, and to teacher and librarian associations. He visited nearly every state in the nation. While Cormier loved to travel, he said many times that he also loved returning to his home in Leominster.
Cormier was a practicing Catholic and attended parochial school, where in seventh grade, one of his teachers discovered his ability to write. But Cormier had always wanted to be a writer: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to get something down on paper.” His first poems were published in the Leominster Daily Enterprise, and his first professional publication occurred while he was a freshman at Fitchburg State College. His professor, Florence Conlon, sent his short story, without his knowledge, to The Sign, a national Catholic magazine. The story, titled “The Little Things That Count,” sold for $75.
Cormier’s first work as a writer was at radio station WTAG in Worcester, MA, where he wrote scripts and commercials from 1946 to 1948. In 1948, he began his award-winning career as a newspaperman with the Worcester Telegram, first in its Leominster office and later in its Fitchburg office. He wrote a weekly human-interest column, “A Story from the Country,” for that newspaper.
In 1955, Cormier joined the staff of the Fitchburg Sentinel, which later became the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise, as the city hall and political reporter. He later served as wire and associate editor and wrote a popular twice-weekly column under the pseudonym John Fitch IV. The column received the national K.R. Thomason Award in 1974 as the best human-interest column written that year. That same year, he was honored by the New England Associated Press Association for having written the best news story under pressure of deadline. He left newspaper work in 1978 to devote all his time to writing.
Robert Cormier’s first novel, Now and at the Hour, was published in 1960. Inspired by his father’s death, the novel drew critical acclaim and was featured by Time magazine for five weeks on its “Recommended Reading” list. It was followed in 1963 by A Little Raw on Monday Mornings and in 1965 by Take Me Where the Good Times Are, also critically acclaimed. The author was hailed by the Newark Advocate as being “in the first rank of American Catholic novelists.”
In 1974, Cormier published The Chocolate War, the novel that is still a bestseller. Instantly acclaimed, it was also the object of censorship attempts because of its uncompromising realism. In a front-page review in a special children’s issue of The New York Times Book Review, it was described as “masterfully structured and rich in theme,” and it went on to win countless awards and honors, was taught in schools and colleges throughout the world, and was translated into more than a dozen languages. I Am the Cheese followed in 1977 and After the First Death in 1979.
These three books established Cormier as a master of the young adult novel. In 1991, the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association presented him with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, citing the trio of books as “brilliantly crafted and troubling novels that have achieved the status of classics in young adult literature.”
In 1982, Cormier was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and its Adolescent Literature Assembly (ALAN) for his “significant contribution to the field of adolescent literature” and for his “innovative creativity.”
8 Plus 1, an anthology of short stories that have appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, The Sign, and Redbook, was published in 1980. In later years, many of the stories in the collection, notably “The Moustache,” “President Cleveland, Where Are You?” and “Mine on Thursdays,” appeared in anthologies and school textbooks. The collection also received the World of Reading Readers’ Choice Award, sponsored by Silver Burdett & Ginn, especially notable because young readers voted for Cormier to receive the prize.
I Have Words to Spend, a collection of his newspaper and magazine columns, was published in 1991, assembled and edited by his wife, Connie.
Robert Cormier’s other novels include The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, 1983; Beyond the Chocolate War, 1985; Fade, 1988; Other Bells for Us to Ring, 1990; We All Fall Down, 1991; Tunes for Bears to Dance To, 1992; In the Middle of the Night, 1995; Tenderness, 1997; Heroes, 1998; and Frenchtown Summer, 1999. Frenchtown Summer won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction in April 2000. All his novels have won critical praise and honors.
In the Middle of the Night and Tenderness were short-listed for the Carnegie Medal in England, and Heroes received a “Highly Commended” citation for that same award, unique honors because the Carnegie Medal is traditionally awarded to a British book.
Cormier's novels have frequently come under attack by censorship groups because they are uncompromising in their depictions of the problems young people face each day in a turbulent world. Teachers and librarians have been quick to point out that his novels are eminently teachable, valuable, and moral. His novels are taught in hundreds of schools and in adolescent literature courses in colleges and universities.
Though many of his books are described as written for young adults, in fact people of all ages read and enjoy Cormier’s work. His themes of the ordinariness of evil and what happens when good people stand by and do nothing are treated seriously, and he never provides the easy comfort of a happy ending. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.
In an interview, Cormier was asked if he had accomplished what he set out to do at the beginning of his writing career. He answered with characteristic humility: “Oh, yes. My dream was to be known as a writer and to be able to produce at least one book that would be read by people. That dream came true with the publication of my first novel–and all the rest has been a sweet bonus. All I’ve ever wanted to do, really, was to write.” His writing has left the world a legacy of wonderful books, a body of work that will endure.
BEYOND THE CHOCOLATE WAR
“Cormier is almost unique in his powerful integration of the personal, political, and moral.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Imagine what might happen if Holden Caulfield stepped into H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, and you’ll have an idea how good Fade is. . . . I was absolutely riveted.”—Stephen King
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
“Convincingly and enticingly complex.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews
“One of the eeriest of Cormier's thrillers, this account of vengeance and obsession provides the brand of suspense that has earned him so many fans.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
“Spectacular . . . unnerving and piercingly honest . . . it doesn’t end at the end.”—The New York Times Book Review
“From the very first page, readers will be caught up in the story.”—Booklist
“Superbly written, with characters well developed and a tight, fast-moving plot. . . . A must read.”—VOYA
“An intense and powerful exploration of the burdens of accusation and guilt.”—The Horn Book Magazine
“Cormier is once again on top of his game. . . . His story will hold fans from first page to last.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
“[A] powerhouse novel . . . that will follow the reader long after the story has ended.”—Booklist
“Compelling . . . and thought-provoking.”—School Library Journal
OTHER BELLS FOR US TO RING
“Superbly crafted. . . . A provocative look at the meaning of belief.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews
“Cormier is in top form in this chilling portrait of a serial murderer. . . . [A] gripping tale.”—Starred, School Library Journal
“A mesmerizing plunge into the mind of a psychopathic teen killer that is both deeply disturbing and utterly compelling.”—Focus Review, Booklist
“The novel has a wealth of depth and complexity . . . Cormier’s best yet.”—The Book Report
“Vivid characterizations. . . . Cormier performs literary magic by making us empathize with these two teenagers who live at society’s far edges.”—VOYA
“Suspenseful and chilling. . . . Vintage Cormier: short pithy sentences and bends in the text take the reader along startling paths.”—The Horn Book Magazine
About the Book
In Robert Cormier’s unforgettable novels, an individual often stands alone, fighting for what is right–or just to survive–against powerful, sinister, and sometimes evil people. His books look unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of power, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.
The questions that follow are intended to spur discussion and to provoke thoughtful readers to contemplate some of the issues of identity, character, emotion, and morality that make Cormier’s books so compelling.
About the Guide
The school year is almost at an end, and the chocolate sale is ancient history. But no one at Trinity can forget.
About the Author
Robert Cormier’s writing is unique in its richness and power, and he was often called one of the finest young adult novelists in America. His books are brilliant and complex structures full of intricate wordplay and subtle thought.
Robert Cormier’s novels have received many awards, consistently appearing on the Best Books for Young Adults lists of the American Library Association. In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens, for The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and After the First Death. Most recently, Frenchtown Summer was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction.
Cormier lived all his life in the little New England mill town of Leominster, Massachusetts, where he grew up as part of a close, warm community of French Canadian immigrants. He and his wife, Connie, had four children and many grandchildren who lived nearby. He was for many years a newspaperman specializing in human interest stories.
The Rag and Bone Shop was the last novel completed by Cormier before his death in 2000.
1. The narrator mentions that the Vigils are allowed to exist at Trinity because they keep the student body in control. At neighboring schools violence has broken out and bomb threats have been made, but not at Trinity. Still, most students agree that something is deeply wrong at the school. Why is Trinity so “creepy”? Which school situation do you think is better?
2. In what ways are Brother Leon and Archie similar or dissimilar? Why won’t people stand up to either of them?
3. Carter tries to stand up to Archie by writing to the corrupt headmaster. Obie tries to kill him. Neither of these plans works. How else could Archie be foiled? What do you think Archie’s greatest fear is?
4. Why does Jerry decide to go back to Trinity despite what has happened to him? What does he mean when he says, “You can look like a loser but don’t have to be one.” (p. 223) Are there other characters who obtain such a sense of freedom?
5. How did you feel at the end of this book? Sad? Angry? How do you think Cormier wants you to feel?