Robert Cormier (1925-2000) changed the face of young adult literature over the course of his illustrious career. His many books include The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, Fade, Tenderness, After the First Death, Heroes, Frenchtown Summer, and The Rag and Bone Shop. In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.
In an unapologetically severe story about four boys who victimize Karen Jerome and her family, Cormier once again explores the potential for malice in all of us. The teenagers leave the Jeromes' home in ruin; Karen is assaulted and subsequently hospitalized in a coma. Not for the squeamish, Cormier's novel doesn't mince words: ``The vandals shit on the floors and pissed on the walls and trashed their way through the seven-room Cape Cod cottage.'' Like Robert Westall ( The Machine Gunners ; Blitzcat ), Cormier surpasses most other writers by the sheer force of his words. Much more than a pulp thriller, this compelling, richly textured novel is told from several points of view, including that of the vandals themselves. Cormier illuminates even the darkest characters with humanity, so that in the end, readers see the complicated fabric of life itself. Motives, thoughts and feelings are set forth--not without hope, but irrevocably tragic as well. Ages 13-up. (Oct.)
Gr 8 Up-- After the benignities of his last novel, Other Bells for Us To Ring (Delacorte, 1990), Cormier returns to the gritty form that made him famous. His new novel is sure, accordingly, to inflame the same parental passions and excite the same critical controversies that visited the publication of The Chocolate War (1974) and After the First Death (1979, both Pantheon). It is also sure--like those books--to find a devoted following among the kids themselves, who will recognize and embrace the authenticity of the achingly awful adolescent world that Cormier has created. It is a world in which emotions are raw, evil exists, and violence--both studied and offhand--is an everyday occurrence. The book begins, in fact, with overt violence--the trashing of a suburban house by a group of teenage boys--and ends with a more subtle kind of violence--the trashing of love and the destruction of hope. If this looks like familiar territory, look again. Cormier is gingerly exploring some new terrain here, both literally (by moving his setting from the familiar confines of Monument to the neighboring community of Burnside) and figuratively (by counterbalancing the emotional aridity of evil with a genuinely moving and nurturing love story). More familiar territory is a suspenseful subplot involving a character called ``The Avenger,'' whose goal is to exact revenge for the trashing. Although it certainly will keep readers turning the pages, this may be the weaker part of the novel, particularly its resolution, which seems somewhat glib. Other considerations, however, of character, setting, and the complexity of family interrelationships are richly realized. And the overriding thematic treatment of the dialectics between good and evil and free will vs. predestination is sure to stimulate discussion and vigorous dialectic of its own. --Michael Cart, Beverly Hills Public Library