By: Rebecca Slocum
Bestselling journalist and author Robert Cormier was born on this day in 1925; he would have been 95 years old. Throughout his life, Cormier penned over 18 young adult novels, covering an array of heavy topics, such as abuse, mental illness, addiction, violence, sexual assault, and anarchy.
Cormier was born and raised in Leominster, Massachusetts. Though he moved around several times, with his parents and later, his wife, he always remained in his hometown. Many of his novels draw from his experiences in growing up in a small, close-knit family and town. He often said, “There are lots of untold stories right here on Main Street.” Cormier grew up in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic school; during his 7th grade year, after reading one of his poems, one of the nuns at his school encouraged him to be a writer. He took that advice to heart and began writing at every possible moment. It’s safe to say that his teacher’s support changed the course of his life.
Though many of Cormier’s novels won awards and achieved critical acclaim, his most popular book was (and still is) The Chocolate War. This was the first novel of his that I read, back in 7th grade as well. The plot centers around a seemingly innocuous situation, the school’s annual chocolate sale, but the story isn’t as innocent as it seems. Jerry, a student at Trinity High school, is given an assignment by the local gang leader, Archie, to refuse to sell chocolates for a week. However, at the end of the week, Jerry decides to “disturb the universe” and continues to refuse to sell, causing a rebellion against the school and Archie’s gang. In the wake of this decision, Jerry experiences manipulation, psychological torment, and brutal violence. And though we’re used to “happily ever after” in YA books, where the villain gets his just dessert, Cormier provides a more realistic, yet bleak, solution.
The Chocolate War is not only Cormier’s best selling book, it is also the most challenged book. In fact, there are so many instances of schools and libraries attempting to ban the book, it was one of the top challenged books from 1990-1999 and 2000-2009. Some recurring complaints from parents include violence, sexual content, vulgar language, and pessimistic world views.
Despite being frequently challenged, Cormier continued to write these mature themes; he felt they were an important window for young adults to view the world beyond them. In 1991, he was awarded the Margaret E. Edwards Award, which honors an author for their significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
Robert Cormier died on November 2, 2000, after battling lung cancer. However, his legacy continues as his books still draw readers and are taught in schools all over the world.
Happy Birthday, Robert Cormier!
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.