When freshman Jerry Renault refuses to participate in his Catholic school’s annual chocolate fundraiser, the school’s student body “power gang” makes an example of him. This tale of a boy who tried to stand up for something, only to be nearly beaten to death for it, didn’t inspire or entertain me, but successfully angered me. Perhaps that was the point.
The author’s style is raw, and the story is filled with explicit language, bullies, manipulative behavior, abusive teachers, graphic violence, and numerous references to masturbation. The Chocolate War is complex, shocking, disturbing, and hopeless – not a book that can be read for sheer enjoyment. It deals with some intense moral and teen boy issues apt to be found in non-homeschool settings. Before you even think of giving this book to your teen boys, think long and hard why you want them to read it. Because it was recommended? You like the author? It’s controversial? You want him to have a well-rounded literary education? You want to discuss tough topics?
Whether this book is a brilliant, triumphant addition to young adult literature is debatable. Bottom line, The Chocolate War is a disturbing book. Though I would hope the characters are extreme examples, we all have known an Archie or a Jerry at one time or another. This book offers no solution; it only exposes the mind of a power hungry, amoral, godless, individual, and shows the slow and painful destruction of a potentially good kid.