Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Hero, Robert Cormier

No other author has influenced me as much as Robert Cormier.

Cormier was WAY ahead of his time. And although he is categorized as a Young Adult author, I've enjoyed his work as an adult.  But during the 70s and early 80s, he dared to write books that were very unconventional. This was when all those anti-drug novels were born. I mean, this was the age of the "After School Special" to teach kids a lesson.

However, Robert Cormier's books were completely different in a number of ways:

1) Although sometimes drugs and sex were in his books, they weren't the focus.
2) Adults were not always to be trusted.
3) There are no such things as 'happy endings.'

When I was a high school English teacher and going over one of his best books, After the First Death, our class had a debate about the ending. Cormier was ambiguous about the death of a main character - and we argued whether it was intentional or an accident. I had heard a rumor that Cormier had actually put his REAL phone number in one of his books, I Am the Cheese.

So I gave it a whirl one day. I called the number. And what would you know, Robert Cormier answered the damn telephone! We talked about the ending of his book, and I found out that my original suspicions were correct. And then we talked about writing. I told him that I wanted to be a writer. And he said:

"Well, Jason. Just keep writing. Tell your story. And hopefully good things will come."

Mr. Cormier passed away a year later.

Here are my Top 3 Favorite books (in no particular order) by Robert Cormier.  If you haven't read any of these, give them a try.

1) After the First Death. Talk about prophetic. This book proceeded September 11th by 22 years, and it deals with a terrorist attack on a bus load of children. The novel tells the story from three main characters' points of view, and it a big puzzle at first. But man, when you put the pieces together, it WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.
Best line: And she saw her doom in the masks.

2) The Chocolate War. This is the book that put Cormier on the map. This novel won so many damn awards, yet is consistently in the top 10 most banned books in America. Before there was School Ties or Dead Poets Society, there was The Chocolate War. It's the story of a young boy who dares to "disturb the universe." He's tormented by a teacher at his all-boys private school and by a notorious secret society called The Vigils. I got in hot water for teaching this book. But I taught it anyway.
Best line: Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies or television?

3) Fade. This is reported to be one of Stephen King's favorite novels. What if you had the power of invisibility? This book centers around a young man that discovers that he's inherited the power of the Fade, and he begins to see things he wishes he had never witnessed. This power soon becomes a burden when he discovers a nephew has this power too, and has been killing people. How the hell do you fight when you AND your opponent are both invisible???  Read this book and find out. Masterful.
Best Line: This is what the fade made me. A monster.

Cormier said that he loved to write about ordinary teenagers put into extraordinary situations. They don't have super powers, nor have vampire or werewolf buddies to help them out

And unfortunately, we all can't be superheroes.


The Desert Rocks said...

You're so lucky you remember the books you read when you were young. I read hundreds of books and I don't remember any of the authors except Roald Dahl and Frank Baum. I remember reading sci-fi books like crazy until I was in eighth grade and started getting distracted by boys. I also liked undersea adventures....

cube said...

Good post. Thanks for opening an avenue of new books to peruse. And good for you that you were able to follow the clues to speak to Cormier himself.

Jay Noel said...

Eve, I read Dahl in 5th grade, I believe. My very first big book report was on H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. I made a cool diorama with a shoe box. I cut a viewing hole. Took old 3-D glasses and placed the red cellophane over the hole. Inside, I made a 3-D version of the time machine out of cardboard, swirling in the space/time vortex.

And I have what's called super autobiographical recall. It's a curse, as I remember EVERYTHING in my life. Every last detail.

Jay Noel said...

Cube, I got in big trouble teaching his books in school. But I had parents in tears coming up to me saying that their son or daughter is reading at home. Dragging them to libraries or book stores. Wanting to read more Cormier books. It was well worth it!

Mr. Shife said...

Thanks for the tips. It sounds like I am missing out. Have a good one.

Phats said...

That is so freaking awesome that he answered how neat is that. I haven't read anything by him but I have heard of the chocolate war, I am going to have to check some of his stuff out. I am totally a corrupt teacher :) haha

Jay Noel said...

Shife, Thanks man. We're gettin' close now, aren't we? Two days???

Phats, I believe you can find some of his books on Google Books now for free, if you don't mind reading on a computer. I was a rebel teacher in my youth!

John Wiswell said...

I don't see anything wrong with superheroes or werewolves. Almost rather read a novel about blowing up a busload of werewolves. But likewise, I can enjoy things that require less imagination. What's most appealing in your descriptions are his more challenging and complex handling of plots in books presumably written for young audiences. It's worrisome how coddled some kids are being, right into the fiction they're allowed to consume.

Jay Noel said...

You will like Fade then, John. The power of invisibility is obviously a major part of the story, but it doesn't become a crutch.

In the end, it's the characters and plot that drives the story. Otherwise, the invisibility just becomes a novelty.

Comier didn't dumb down his stories - that's what's so great about his work.

Mr. Shife said...

Now it is 1 day.

Joel Gray said...

That's an interesting article you wrote. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog.

Miranda Hardy said...

I need to check these out. My daughter read a couple of books the other day that she didn't like the endings to. I told her that not all endings are happy.

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