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.
The school year is almost at an end, and the chocolate sale is ancient history. But no one at Trinity can forget.
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?
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.