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.