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  • I Am the Cheese
  • Written by Robert Cormier
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  • Written by Robert Cormier
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Written by Robert CormierAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Cormier

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On Sale: March 19, 2013
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-307-83428-7
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
I Am the Cheese Cover

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Before there was Lois Lowry’s The Giver or M. T. Anderson’s Feed, there was Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese, a subversive classic that broke new ground for YA literature.
 
A boy’s search for his father becomes a desperate journey to unlock a secret past. But the past must not be remembered if the boy is to survive. As he searches for the truth that hovers at the edge of his mind, the boy—and readers—arrive at a shattering conclusion.
 
“An absorbing, even brilliant job. The book is assembled in mosaic fashion: a tiny chip here, a chip there. . . . Everything is related to something else; everything builds and builds to a fearsome climax. . . . [Cormier] has the knack of making horror out of the ordinary, as the masters of suspense know how to do.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“A horrifying tale of government corruption, espionage, and counter espionage told by an innocent young victim. . . . The buildup of suspense is terrific.”—School Library Journal, starred review
 
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare
A Library of Congress Children’s Book of the Year
A Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award Nominee

Excerpt

I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I'm pedaling furiously because this is an old-fashioned bike, no speeds, no fenders, only the warped tires and the brakes that don't always work and the handlebars with cracked rubber grips to steer with. A plain bike - the kind my father rode as a kid years ago. It's cold as I pedal along, the wind like a snake slithering up my sleeves and into my jacket and my pants legs, too. But I keep pedaling, I keep pedaling.

This is Mechanic Street in Monument, and to my right, high above on a hill, there's a hospital and I glance up at the place and I think of my father in Rutterburg, Vermont, and my pedaling accelerates. It's ten o'clock in the morning and it is October, not a Thomas Wolfe October of burning leaves and ghost winds but a rotten October, dreary, cold, damp with little sun and no warmth at all. Nobody reads Thomas Wolfe anymore, I guess, except my father and me. I did a book report on The Web and the Rock and Mr. Parker in English II regarded me with suspicion and gave me a B- instead of the usual A. But Mr. Parker and the school and all of that are behind me now and I pedal. Your legs do all the work on an old bike like this, but my legs feel good, strong, with staying power. I pass by a house with a white picket fence and I spot a little kid who's standing on the sidewalk and he watches me go by and I wave to him because he looks lonesome and he waves back.

I look over my shoulder but there's no one following.

At home, I didn't wave goodbye to anybody. I just left. Without fanfare. I didn't go to school. I didn't call anyone. I thought of Amy but I didn't call her. I woke up this morning and saw an edge of frost framing the window and I thought of my father and I thought of the cabinet downstairs in the den and I lay there, barely breathing, and then I got up and knew where I was going.  But I stalled, I delayed. I didn't leave for two hours because I am a coward, really. I am afraid of a thousand things, a million. Like, is it possible to be claustrophobic and yet fear open spaces, too? I mean, elevators panic me. I stand in the upright coffin and my body oozes sweat and my heart pounds and this terrible feeling of suffocation threatens me and I wonder if the doors will ever open. But the next day, I was playing center field - I hate baseball but the school insists on one participating sport - anyway, I stood there with all that immensity of space around me in center field and I felt as though I'd be swept off the face of the planet, into space. I had to fight a desire to fling myself on the ground cling to the earth. And then there are dogs. I sat there in the house, thinking of all the dogs that would attack me on the way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I told myself, This is crazy, I'm not going. But at the same time, I knew I would go. I knew I would go the way you know a stone will drop to the ground if you release it from your hand.

I went to the cabinet in the den and took out the gift for my father. I wrapped it in aluminum foil and then wrapped it again with newspaper, Scotch-taping it all securely. Then I went down to the cellar and got the pants and shoes and jacket, but it took me at least a half hour to find the cap. It would be cold on the road to Vermont and this cap is perfect, woolen, the kind that I could pull over my ears if the cold became a problem.

Then I raided my savings. I have plenty of money. I have thirty-five dollars and ninety-three cents. I have enough money to travel first class to Vermont, in the Greyhound bus that goes all the way to Montreal, but I know that I am going by bike to Rutterburg, Vermont. I don't want to be confined to a bus. I want the open road before me, I want to sail on the wind. The bike was waiting in the garage and that's how I wanted to go. By bike, by my own strength and power. For my father.

I looked at myself in the mirror before I left, the full-length mirror on the side of the closet door in my parents' bedroom upstairs. I inspected myself in the mirror, the crazy hat and the old jacket, and I knew that I looked ridiculous. But what the hell, as Amy says, philosophically.

I thought longingly of Amy. But she was at school and almost impossible to call. I could have faked it. I could have called the school and pretended that I was her father and asked to speak to her, saying that there was an emergency at home. Her father is editor of the Monument Times and always speaks with emergency in his voice, his sentences like headlines.

But I have to be in the mood to pull off a stunt like that - in fact, those kinds of stunts are Amy's specialty. And besides, my mind was on the road to Vermont. I love Amy Hertz. It's ridiculous that her name is Hertz - she's probably heard a thousand car-rental jokes and I have vowed never to make one. Anyway, I decided not to call her. Not until I'm away. I will call her on the way to Rutterburg, Vermont. And I will soothe myself by thinking of her and her Numbers and all the times she let me kiss her and hold her. But I didn't want to think about all that as I prepared for my journey.

I went to the kitchen and took out the bottle of pills from the cabinet and decided not to take one. I wanted to do this raw, without crutches, without aid, alone. I opened the bottle of pills and turned it over and let the pills fall out - they are capsules, actually, green and black - and I watched them disappear into the mouth of the garbage disposal. I felt strong and resolute.

I got the bike out of the garage and walked down the driveway, guiding the bike before I swung into the seat. I had my father's package in the basket above the front wheel. I was traveling light, with no provisions or extra clothing.

Finally, I leaped onto the bike, feeling reckless and courageous. At that moment, the sun came out, dazzling and brilliant: an omen of good fortune. I swung out into the street and a car howled its horn at me for straying too far into the roadway - and I wavered on the bicycle, the front wheel wobbling. I thought, This is ridiculous, this trip to Rutterburg. I almost turned back. But I didn't. I thought of my father and I started pedaling away, and I gained momentum and knew I would go, nothing would stop me, nothing.

And now I am leaving Monument and crossing the town line into Aswell. A sign by the side of the road says that the Aswell Rotary Club meets every Monday at noon. I have only gone four or five miles and my legs don't feel strong anymore. My legs are weary and my back sings with pain because I am out of condition. Frankly, I have never been in condition, which is a source of delight to Amy Hertz, who dislikes all kinds of physical exercise.

I keep pedaling despite the weariness and the pain. I am determined to go to Rutterburg. I suck in the cold air and it caresses my lungs. My forehead is damp with sweat and I pull the cap down over my ears. I have all those miles to go.

"Take it easy," I tell myself. "Take it easy. One mile at a time."

And suddenly there's a long hill slanting down before me and the bike picks up speed and my legs are whirling madly, without effort, the bike carried by the momentum, and I let myself join the wind, soaring over the road as I coast beautifully down into Aswell.
Robert Cormier

About Robert Cormier

Robert Cormier - I Am the Cheese

Photo © James Patrick Langlands

“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.


PRAISE


BEYOND THE CHOCOLATE WAR
“Cormier is almost unique in his powerful integration of the personal, political, and moral.”—The New York Times Book Review


FADE
“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


HEROES
“Cormier is once again on top of his game. . . . His story will hold fans from first page to last.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Powerful.”—Starred, VOYA

“[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


TENDERNESS
“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

Praise | Awards

Praise

"A horrifying tale . . . the buildup of suspense is terrific." - School Library Journal, Starred"AN ABSORBING, EVEN brilliant job. The book is assembled in mosaic fashion: a tiny chip here, a chip there. . . . Everything is related to something else; everything builds and builds to a fearsome climax. . . . Cormier . . . has the knack of making horror out of the ordinary, as the masters of suspense know how to do." - The New York Times Book Review

Awards

NOMINEE 1985 Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

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 twisty, gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compels 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

"Cormier's greatest work skillfully weaves together three narratives to slowly reveal
the horrifying fate of fourteen-year-old Adam Farmer and his family."                                          --The Horn Book

About the Author

Cormier's writing is unique in its richness and power, and he has often been called the finest young adult novelist in America today. His books are brilliant and complex structures full of intricate wordplay and subtle thought. 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.

Discussion Guides

1. Adam is pedaling on the bike at the beginning and the end of the novel. What do you think this endless cycling refers to? Does the book have a sense of motion? Is there a destination?

2. Discuss the meaning of the title. Is it significant that it comes from a nursery song sung by Adam at the end of the book?

3. Adam is struggling to understand his identity. What composes his identity? What composes your identity? What defines you?

4. Do you think this novel is a tragedy? What types of injustice are done to Adam? How does the government view him? Does it value him? In what way(s)?

5. Adam is being manipulated by the doctors/ government. How is Cormier manipulating you as the reader and why?


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