Now you’ve read The Chocolate War. What do you read next? Here’s a short list with some suggestions for further reading. Some of these titles cover aspects of bullying. Some are about portraying the truth in the most honest and painful way possible. Some of them are about social dynamics and social truths. Some of them are all of the above.
Part of why I wanted to put together this short list is because a number of books that more recent YA readers have come to know were inspired by Cormier’s classic, whether or not they were aware of it. In many ways, this book opened up a dialog about peer pressure, about conformity, and about the dynamics of relationships in high school in teen fiction and in teen lives.
All descriptions come from WorldCat. I’d love to know of other books you see as strong read alikes to The Chocolate War, and I’d also love to hear about books that were definitely inspired by Cormier’s classic. Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Permanent Record by Leslie Stella: Being yourself can be such a bad idea. For sixteen-year-old Badi Hessamizadeh, life is a series of humiliations. After withdrawing from public school under mysterious circumstances, Badi enters Magnificat Academy. To make things “easier,” his dad has even given him a new name: Bud Hess. Grappling with his Iranian-American identity, clinical depression, bullying, and a barely bottled rage, Bud is an outcast who copes by resorting to small revenges and covert acts of defiance, but the pressures of his home life, plummeting grades, and the unrequited affection of his new friend, Nikki, prime him for a more dangerous revolution. Strange letters to the editor begin to appear in Magnificat’s newspaper, hinting that some tragedy will befall the school. Suspicion falls on Bud, and he and Nikki struggle to uncover the real culprit and clear Bud’s name. Permanent Record explodes with dark humor, emotional depth, and a powerful look at the ways the bullied fight back.
What was most interesting to me in my read of Permanent Record was how many allusions to Cormier’s classic were made. One of the teachers in Badi’s new school wanted to use The Chocolate War as a classroom read, but in the end, decided not to. And rather than fight administration about using it, the teacher decided to forget about it all together. Which an interesting message to compare to what happened in Cormier’s book. There’s also Badi, who refuses to sell chocolates to raise money for student organizations at his new school. Though his resistance and reluctance is much more in-your-face than Jerry’s ever was. There are some really fascinating aspects about identity in Stella’s book, too. Badi has to take on a new name when he enters a new school, thus hiding his ethnicity. Jerry, in Cormier’s novel, doesn’t hide who he is in the least. These two books would make for an interesting discussion for how much they are similar — but even more because of how much Badi and Jerry differ in their approaches to disturbing the universe.
The List by Siobhan Vivian: Every year at Mount Washington High School somebody posts a list of the prettiest and ugliest girls from each grade–this is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, and how they are affected by the list.
Why The List as a read alike? Well, it sure seems inspired by Cormier’s book in terms of bucking against school traditions. This book challenges the beauty myth and the tradition in Mt Washington High School which posts a list of the best looking and ugliest girls each year. This year’s nominees each have an opportunity to give their views of the issue and readers get to experience what happens over the course of this week to the girls and to their peers. Does the list disappear? Do people learn about what beauty is and is not? If The Chocolate War were recast with all females, I think this one gets it pretty close. It’s much less brutal, though, and much more internally and psychologically driven.
The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp: While serving a six-month sentence at a juvenile detention center, thirteen-year-old Sura struggles to survive the experience with his spirit intact.
I have to admit upfront I haven’t read this book. But it came up for me as a strong read alike because it’s a title that forces a main character to survive with his own sense of self and dignity while spending time in a place rapt with authority, power, and control. Knowing Rapp’s writing style, I am confident it is unflinchingly honest. Anyone read this one? I think I’m going to pick it up sooner, rather than later.
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney: When Alex, a junior at an elite preparatory school, realizes that she may have been the victim of date rape, she confides in her roommates and sister who convince her to seek help from a secret society, the Mockingbirds.
Why The Mockingbirds? Well, we have a boarding school setting with authority that’s less interested in the best interests of the students and instead invested in the best face of the school and themselves. There’s vigilante justice here, too, though in Alex’s case, things pan out . . . a little bit better than they do for Jerry.
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson: After finally getting noticed by someone other than school bullies and his ever-angry father, seventeen-year-old Tyler enjoys his tough new reputation and the attentions of a popular girl, but when life starts to go bad again, he must choose between transforming himself or giving in to his destructive thoughts.
It’s been a few years since I read Twisted, but what I remember noting is how it’s a story about what it means to be a male. What the power struggles are and what the challenges of defining yourself as masculine are. These themes are definitely huge in The Chocolate War and Anderson’s writing is, of course, not afraid to tackle the tough stuff.
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers: Regina, a high school senior in the popular–and feared–crowd, suddenly falls out of favor and becomes the object of the same sort of vicious bullying that she used to inflict on others, until she finds solace with one of her former victims.
It’s hard not to see the parallels between what happens in Summers’s book about bullying and what happens in Cormier’s. Except, this time it’s about the power struggles among girls, rather than boys. It’s brutal and honest, and there’s not a hopeful ending or solid closure. Which is part of the honesty and part of Cormier’s book, too. Summers also does a good job of showing both sides of how girls are nasty with one another — the physical and the psychological.
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan: While preparing for the most dreaded assignment at the prestigious Irving School, the Tragedy Paper, Duncan gets wrapped up in the tragic tale of Tim Macbeth, a former student who had a clandestine relationship with the wrong girl, and his own ill-fated romance with Daisy.
Like the Rapp title, this isn’t one I’ve had the chance to read yet. But by all reviews I’ve spent time reading, it sounds like the tight community within the school and the social tensions/politics would make this a strong read alike. Not to mention the history of tradition.
Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon: Bazelon defines what bullying is and, just as important, what it is not; explores when intervention is essential and when kids should be given the freedom to fend for themselves; dispels persistent myths about bullying; and takes her readers into schools that have succeeded in reducing bullying and examines their successful strategies.
I read this one but can’t talk too much about it except to say it’s one of the stronger non-fiction titles exploring teen bullying and brutality I’ve read. It’s adult non-fiction but definitely has teen appeal, as it begins with three case studies of teens dealing with bullying in very different — very painful and real — ways.
I could add many more bullying books, but I’m not because I don’t think that all bullying books are good read alikes to one another, nor are they all good read alikes to The Chocolate War. I am curious to hear, though, what you might think makes for a strong Cormier read alike or what books were clearly inspired by the classic.