This week's theme: Integrity
This week's books: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier & Speak by Laurie Anderson
Although I've never read either of these books, and probably wouldn't have picked either of them off the shelf and said, "Wow! These look really great! I can't wait to get home and start reading them!!!", they weren't bad. Well, compared to some I've read, anyway.
The Chocolate War is about a kid, Jerry, who goes to a private school. At said school, there's a bunch of guys, The Vigils, who are like a gang (dunno what else to call them...well, anything that isn't a swear word, anyway) and whose members take great delight in making other students' lives a living Purgatory. Charming, I know. Anyway, the Vigils give out assignments to various students. Why? Because they can. There's a big fundraiser going on (selling chocolates), and Jerry is instructed to refuse to sell for a set period of time. And so he does. Thing is, he keeps on refusing, even after his assignment is up; this only serves to get him into trouble with the teachers and the Vigils. Not a good thing, as Jerry gets the ever-loving crap beat out of him at the end of the book because of it. Ah, yes. Did I fail to mention that this is not a 'happy ending' kind of book? And that, no, the good guys don't always win?
Except that for me, it was a good (not necessarily happy) ending, even if the good guy doesn't overtly win in the end. See, I think the good guy does win, just not in a universally recognized manner. Although Jerry could've sold the chocolate after he was allowed to do so, he refused. He didn't let his chain get yanked (too much), and was willing to stand up and be brave, even faced with all the awfulness the Vigils had to offer (and it was plenty).
Sometimes it ain't about the damn chocolate. Sometimes it's doing what needs to be done, even knowing that at some point, there will be a reckoning, which may or may not be detrimental to one's health. Sometimes it's knowing that even when one gets knocked down, the right thing to do is to get up and try it again. Keep daring to disturb the universe. Keep daring to be that light in the darkness.
The other book of the week was Speak. It's about a 9th grade girl who goes to a end of summer party, where she gets raped by an upperclassman. Melinda calls the police, who come and shut down the party. So, she's pretty much ostracized by all her friends, even though she hasn't told anyone what happened to her. The book covers the school year, and her attempts to just hold it together.
In her art class, she's assigned to explore/create/understand/whatever a tree. For the entire year. As she struggles to capture the essence of 'tree', she is also struggling to just keep living. At some point, she becomes almost mute, and is afraid she's lost her voice. Her parents are upset by the sudden change in grades and attitude, but not to the point where they try to figure out what exactly is wrong. It's not until the end of the year, when the same upperclassman tries to attack her again, that Melinda rediscovers her voice and can say what happened so many months before.
I'm sure that there are many lessons to be learned from Speak. Some of what I took away from it is that everyone is fighting his or her own battles, and that for some, it's all s/he can do to make it through the day, and come out the other end still alive. Sometimes all I can do is listen, but sometimes that may be all the other person needs.
So,Speak is a definite hit, The Chocolate War, not so much. Interestingly, the YA/teens that come into the library pretty much felt the same way.