Beyond The Chocolate War, a novel written by Robert Cormier is the compelling sequel to The Chocolate War. Robert Cormier is a successful writer who pictures the typical lives of everyday people with extraordinary talent. He is also the author of After The First Death the set novel for year 10 this year. As the names suggest, these books revolve around the same classification: conflict however these are not your common books about pure physical war and battle but it adresses the other side of conflict – the thoughts racing though the characters minds. He very carefully nurtures the plot and story through not only the actions but the thinking of people to build up to a complex climax.
The genre of Beyond The Chocolate War is a psychological thriller that deals with the darker side side of human nature. The novel considers real life situations exaggerated for more effect is a very psychological manner. The dilemmas and predicaments experienced by the many characters in the story are expressed via the battle with their own mind, their decisions and the outcomes of their decisions afterwards.
There are many themes in Beyond The Chocolate War that all contribute to the composition on the story. Relationships, sexual desires, fighting, revenge, murder, rape, assault, anxiety/distress/trouble (very much so), rebellion, suicide, school values, secret societies and authority. The were numerous examples of relationships and sexual desires with the main character (Obie) having a girlfriend and other people lusting after her. Fighting was not used much – like brain over brawn although there were some fights involving physical violence and injury between students. The strong jocks and students who had built stature’s were made to be in a lesser class, easily manipulated and “dopey” despite their physique. The plot of the story was also largely based on revenge with many of the characters devising devious plans as vengeance against one of the other main characters (Archie Costello). These plans included the usage of attempted assaults, rapes and murders. Many of the characters in this novel were disturbed and had trouble within their life – which drove them to the creation of the plans. Most of the people in the story blamed it on the dictatorship of Archie Costello which led to rebellion. There was also a sad case of a boy who committed suicide. It was made known throughout the book that he obviously needed help from his family, teachers and peers alike but did not receive it. The most important factor of the book was a secret society called the Vigils within a Catholic school called Trinity High School. The authority of the leader of the Vigils (Archie Costello) was enormous, he controlled practically everyone in the school except Brother Leon the Head Master. Most of the people in the school hated these two characters both very shrewd, smart and cruel. Both also experienced students trying to take their life.
Beyond The Chocolate War continues and shows the aftermath of The Chocolate War. Unlike other novels with pre-quels, Beyond The Chocolate War does not give readers a disadvantage and unfulfilling plot if they have not read the pre-quel. It may have been easier however to know the background of some of the characters that were carried over from the previous book but this novel but this novel has a fine stand alone story. The basic plot of the story of starts off with the return of Jerry Renault a boy was severely injured during a fight in the Chocolate War in the previous novel. He is still in shock and the book refers to some of his feelings about the confrontation with the boy who beat him up Emile
Janza – a supposedly stupid person with muscles bulging everywhere. Over 3/4 of the story is from the eyes of the main character Obie who vows revenge on Archie Costello who ruined his life. Obie used to be Archie’s ‘right hand man’ and his best friend even though Archie was using Obie. Now he has become Archie’s arch rival and aches to get out of the secret society: the Vigils. This group is responsible for pranks/practical jokes (known as “assignments” to the Vigils) around the school and has caused much disruption in the school and even some deaths. The leader or “assigner” gives out the pranks to be carried to its members and no-one dares to defy the assigner. Without any choice, the members must complete the pranks which have caused depression and anxiety to many students and even teachers. The guilty conscience haunts them forever, knowing that they have caused so much harm. The assigner does not do any of the assignments to avoid risk to himself. Obie abhors his role in the inclusion to the senseless pranks but after an “assignment” placed upon Obie and his girlfriend that involved an attempted rape without his knowing, he plans for the destruction of Archie Costello. “They touched me Obie! She yelped as Obie comforted her..he knew it was the work of the Vigils and now the fire had been lit” The suspense and climax is not just provided from Obie’s but from an impending suicide of David Caroni who is driven to his decision by the corruption of teachers in the school (especially Brother Leon). The chapters that describes David’s thoughts are like a time bomb waiting to go off, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.
The title is significant as it refers to the happenings beyond/after The Chocolate War, other than that the title does not show some other deeper meaning.
The writer employs a very descriptive style, which utilises both first and third person perspective’s (predominantly third person). Besides the descriptions taken from the characters minds, there is much dialogue which some sort contrast/similarities to their thoughts. This is a very real aspect of everyday life. There are some uses of personification, similes and expressive words to add meaning and interest (even though some of these words were beyond my comprehension). “.his voice an agonising whisper” He also made use of single word sentences to add depth and emphasise the meaning further. “.he had seen Tubs name in only two sales. Preposterous.” To make it even more realistic he includes various swear words and profane language in the students dialogues.
Because there are many characters and parallel plots which converge, the story is exciting and ‘a real page turner’. The author evidently never runs out of words and ideas. While I was reading it, I did not at one point think that it was boring, the cover was boring enough and the small print and fine words would have turned me away from it. If I didn’t read some excerpts from it, even from a small excerpt where action could already be sensed I probably would not have borrowed it. Beyond The Chocolate War touches on the darker side of teenage life-real life situations with a twist. It is very successful in captivating me and even involves me in it. The characters are easy to keep track of as they have a distinct role which is not too confusing at all. The characters are very well chosen as their personalities are extremely original and typical for the distorted youths in the story.
The story is very entertaining and offers a new outlook in bullying and ways to combat it. There are many things to learn from this book and if the message sent across by the reader is successful (that teenagers must be nurtured by their parents, peers and teachers and bullying, discrimination and unfairness stamped out), many suicides and teenage depressions could be prevented. A great read. 5 stars!