Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I cannot remember ever being this impressed with a kid's book. Well, maybe Peter and Wendy. But certainly nothing from modern juvenile fiction has struck me as much as I Am the Cheese. In fact, it impressed me so much that I thought for a moment, "Oh shit--can my kids really read this?"

Well, they kind of have to because I told them to buy it, so. Anyway, as Carlton describes, I Am the Cheese is the story of Adam Farmer, who is trying to ride his bike from Monument, Massachusetts to Rutterburg, Vermont, to see his father. The narrative is interspersed with moments in which Adam is being interviewed by a psychologist, in which it is revealed that his family was in the Witness Protection Program and his real name is Paul Delmonte. And then, as you're trying to piece it together, Cormier slips the whole rug out from underneath you, with a pretty deft "it was all a dream/mental illusion/the Matrix" switcharoo.

How is it handled? Well, let me tell you this--I had to read the end a couple times to understand it. My seventh graders might read it once. Cormier smartly makes the bike ride narrative as simple as possible, letting readers (especially young readers) reserve their mental faculties for figuring out the interview sections, but at the end his straightforwardness gets muddled a little bit. And that's a shame, because this is a doozy of a book--full of pathos, with strong characters and a real ear for the thoughts and speech of children.

But try telling a thirteen-year old about pathos.



Carlton said...

The cover of this book makes me want to hang myself and everyone I know.

Nihil Novum said...

I just read this book yesterday. I've decided that Cormier is not the author to lift you out of your doldrums.

Fantastic book though.