The first of three sections of the book gives ample insight into the autobiographical experiences that underpinned Cormier’s settings and plot. Cormier’s son’s own fundraising experience provided the seed for precipitating incident in The Chocolate War, which was further informed by his own adolescent experience at the hands of school bullies. The background and biographical information supplied here is closely associated with Cormier’s text. Many students believe all writing has an autobiographical component, and this format’s emphasis on the autobiographically derived nature of The Chocolate War will do nothing to dissuade young readers of that preconception.
The Chocolate War helped to establish the young adult literature genre in the same way mid-century American culture established the concept of the teenager, and some of the response deals with political extension of Cormier’s message. The bulk of the book is made up of critical essays, many no more than three pages in length, examining the novel thematically. The Chocolate War provides fodder for analysis in terms of realism, despair, tyranny, and evolving masculinity. The Chocolate War has passed from the subversive to the canonical, but the emphasis on a single theme explored through content, which is equal parts editorial and literary in nature, provides for a tightly-scaffolded experience for neophyte researchers.
The decades-old essays arguing that Cormier’s work was too brutal for children resounds today. The meta-rhetorical nature of the inclusion of these indictments in this volume offers a teachable moment about the nature of library collections and scholarship, and the very presence of these arguments provides a lovely assertion of the intellectual freedom laboratory nature of the school library about book banning and first amendment rights.
The final section of the volume offers up-to-date research on related social issues addressed in detail in the textual analysis, providing exactly the sort of expedient access point required to inform a research project. On the whole, the Social Issues in Literature series format does an efficient job of providing students with a straightforward method of systematically examining and understanding a familiar piece of literature, with subsequent analysis presented in a cohesive and coherent manner. The volumes expedite and streamline the research process in a concise and thematically organized way students could begin to take for granted.