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  • Written by Robert Cormier
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  • The Rag and Bone Shop
  • Written by Robert Cormier
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On Sale: December 04, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-385-72992-5
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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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

Twelve-year old Jason is accused of the brutal murder of a young girl. Is he innocent or guilty? The shocked town calls on an interrogator with a stellar reputation: he always gets a confession. The confrontation between Jason and his interrogator forms the chilling climax of this terrifying look at what can happen when the pursuit of justice becomes a personal crusade for victory at any cost.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Part I

“Feeling better?”

“I guess so. My headache’s gone. Is there a connection?”

“Maybe. They say confession’s good for the soul. But I don’t know if it eliminates headaches.”

“Am I supposed to say I’m sorry now?”

“The fact that you confessed indicates a degree of sorrow.”

“Is that enough?”

“That’s up to you, Carl. What you did can’t be erased, of course.”

“I know. They’re dead. Gone. Can’t bring them back. But—can the sin be erased?”

“I can’t tell you that. I’m not a priest.”

“But I confessed to you.”

“Yes, but I can’t give you absolution.”

Pause.

“Are the police coming?”

“They’re waiting outside.”

Trent shut off the tape player and leaned back in the chair, kneaded the flesh above his eyebrows. In the silence of the office, he still heard Carl Seaton’s voice, all cunning gone, penitent, full of regret. Trent had sat across from him for four hours, under the harsh light of a 100-watt ceiling bulb, in the small cluttered office. The relentless questions and answers, the evasions and rationalizations, the eventual admission (not the same as a confession), and, finally, the confession itself.

The Trent magic touch at work, as a newspaper headline had once proclaimed. But Trent felt no particular magic now, no thrill of accomplishment. Too many confessions? Like Carl Seaton’s? Having induced Carl to confess (that old Trent magic has you in its spell), Trent had had to listen to the recitation of his cold-blooded, deliberate murder of three people. The victims were a thirty-five-year-old woman, her thirty-seven-year-old husband and their ten-year-old son, although Carl hadn’t known their ages at the time.

Six months ago, in the milky whiteness of a winter dawn, Carl Seaton had broken into the modest two-story home of Aaron and Muriel
Stone to steal the small gun collection in the cellar. He admitted that he knew nothing about guns except the pleasure of holding them in his hands and the sense of power they gave him. Carl Seaton broke a cellar window, not worried about the noise of his intrusion, having learned that the family was away on vacation and that there was no alarm system.

He was disappointed to find that there were only three small guns in the so-called collection. He was surprised to find that the guns were loaded. He then decided to search the house. Thought he might find something of value, although he knew nothing about fencing stolen goods. Heard a noise from the second floor. Padded toward the stairs, his sneakers noiseless in the carpeted hallway. Upstairs, he entered a bedroom and was surprised to see a man and woman asleep in the bed. The woman slightly curled up, the bedclothes thrown off. Beautiful eyelashes, thick and curved. The husband flat on his back, mouth open, snoring gently. Carl became conscious of the gun in his hand, felt suddenly the power of his position. What it must feel like to be—God. Looking down at them, so helpless and defenseless, it occurred to him that he could do anything he wanted with them. They were at his mercy. He wondered what the woman would look like without her blue nightgown on. He had never seen an actual naked woman, only in magazines, movies and videos. But it was too much of a bother now to think about that. He didn’t want to spoil this nice feeling, just standing there, knowing he was in charge. He raised the gun and shot them. First, the man. The bullet exploded through the thin blanket, small shreds of green cloth filling the air like rain, the noise of the shot not as loud as he’d imagined it would be. As the woman leaped awake, her eyes flying open, he shot her in the mouth, marveled at the gush of
blood and the way her eyes became fixed and frozen in shock. A mighty sneeze shook his body, the smell of gunpowder heavy in the air.

He wondered: Was there anybody else in the house who might have heard the shots? He went into the hallway, opened a door at the far end, saw a boy sleeping in a bed shaped almost like a boat, hair in neat bangs on his forehead. The boy’s eyelids fluttered. Carl wondered whether he should shoot him or not. Then decided that the boy would be better off if he did. Terrible thing to wake up and find your mother and father dead. Murdered. Carl shot the boy as an act of kindness, nodding, feeling good about it, generous.

Carl Seaton had confessed his acts of murder almost eagerly, glad to provide the details that would lead to his own doom, his voice buoyant with relief. Which was often the case with those who finally acknowledged their acts.

Trent felt only contempt for Carl Seaton, although he had simulated sympathy and compassion during the interrogation. Acting was only another facet of interrogating subjects. If he felt any compassion at the moment, it was for Carl Seaton’s parents. Carl was seventeen years old.
Robert Cormier

About Robert Cormier

Robert Cormier - The Rag and Bone Shop

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

“Tense and terrifying, this final book from Cormier will leave a lasting impression.”
–Booklist, Starred

“The chilling results of the questioning will leave an indelible mark on readers and prompt heated discussions regarding the definition of guilt and the fine line between truth and deception.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred

Awards

WINNER 2002 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
WINNER 2003 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
NOMINEE 2003 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award
WINNER 2002 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
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 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

Delving deep into the human psyche once again, Robert Cormier introduces Jason, a 12-year-old boy accused of a
brutal murder, who faces the insidious scrutiny of a daunting and methodical interrogator determined to get his confession.

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Guides

1. The title of this novel is drawn from two lines of a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” How does the phrase “the rag and bone shop” (i.e., a place where the worst castoffs end up) sum up the essence of this novel? What is Trent saying about his life when he quotes these two lines? (p. 71) And when he shifts into the final phase of the interrogation and remembers the first line? (p. 123)

2. After Jason vanquishes the bully Bobo Kelton with one blow, “he didn’t think he’d ever hit anybody again but he had proved himself capable of doing it.” (p. 26) How does the second part of that sentence become a weapon later for Trent? Why does hitting Bobo mean an end to Jason’s tears? Is the principal right when he says violence never solves anything?

3. Trent’s deceased wife Lottie had told him, “You are what you do.” Why, coming from her, is this an accusation? How, coming from Trent himself at the end, is it a death sentence? Is it true that people are what they do, not only in their jobs, but in the sum total of all their acts, good and bad? Can this be changed?

4. Sarah Downes (and also Carl Seaton) compares Trent to a priest. How are Trent’s interrogations like what a priest does in the confessional? But what crucial differences in Trent’s intentions and capabilities make the outcome for his “perps” entirely different?

5. The exact definitions of the following words are important to understanding the ideas that underlie Cormier’s themes of guilt, innocence, and forgiveness. Look up admission, confession, absolution, indictment, and remission and notice how their definitions overlap and where they differ. How are these terms central to this story?

6. What are the heavy external and internal pressures on Trent to get a confession from Jason? In real life, is it possible that this kind of pressure may result in hasty convictions of innocent people? Have you heard of any such cases? What might be done to keep this from happening?

7. Trent says he has “rules and regulations” for interrogations. What are some of these strategies that relate to the preliminary scenario, the physical set-up of the room, and the subtleties of psychological intimidation? How do these interrogation techniques affect the suspect?

8. “Thrust and parry” is a phrase Trent uses to describe the interrogation. From what sport does this expression come, and what image does it evoke? As the questioning proceeds, Trent suddenly knows irrevocably that Jason is innocent. How does he talk himself out of acting on this realization? What would have been the consequences if he had allowed himself to follow his conscience?

9. A stunning plot twist takes us by surprise when Trent emerges into the hall after he has tricked Jason into “confessing” and is told by Sarah Downes that Brad Bartlett has just admitted to killing his sister. Suddenly everything is different. What are the present and future implications of this new situation for Trent? For Jason? What emotions might they each have felt at this moment that they didn’t feel?

10. In the end, Jason’s view of reality has been badly twisted by Trent’s perverse questioning and his own false confession. What does he tell himself to justify his plan to kill Bobo? How will this action restore his self-respect? If he carries through on this murder, who will then need to confess?


Discussion questions prepared by Patty Campbell, author of Presenting Robert Cormier (Twayne, Dell) and 1989 winner of the ALA’s Grolier Foundation Award for distinguished service to young adults and libraries.


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