by Robert Cormier

Reviewer Rating:
4

Review

Trinity is a private, all boys high school, where on the surface the boys wear uniforms, go to religious ceremonies, and pray, along with attending to their rigorous coursework. The headmaster and several teachers run the school or so they'd like to think.  Behind the scenes the Vigils, an elite gang of boys, keep the student body under raps and the teachers a little anxious and on edge. Carter is president of this little band, but it's Costello, Archie Costello - the Assigner, that really runs the show.  As The Assigner, Archie selects members of the student body and gives them an individual assignment to accomplish. Archie is exceptionally intelligent, at least if you ask him, and he knows everyone both hates and admires him for the clever assignments he comes up with and his uncanny ability to select just the right student for each mission. The consequences for not completing an assignment are not really spelled out, but there's kind of an understanding it would be in your best interest to just do what you are told.  The Goober, for example, was tasked with sneaking into the school when no one was there and removing all the screws in the desks, chairs, and chalkboards of room 19.  The next morning as students entered and began to settle in, everything collapsed.  The teacher was terribly shaken and left for the day (he never actually returns which allows the rumors fly).  Students whisper, "He's been transferred or he's probably still in the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown." Seeing the look on the teacher's face, the horror in his eyes and trembling chin, the Goober will never be the same.  

Jerry Renault, the Goober's best friend, has also received an assignment.  As the school gears up for their annual chocolate sale (on steroids because of Brother Leon's unapproved purchases), he is to refuse to sell any chocolates for exactly 10 days. As Brother Leon takes roll each morning, asking how many boxes of chocolates each student has sold, Renault is to simply say no.  He completes his assignment beautifully.  Staring straight ahead, hands folded on his desk, he states loudly and clearly without emotion, "No, I will not sell any chocolate."  Brother Leon is absolutely furious.  On the eleventh day, Jerry has every intention of accepting the chocolates like everyone else and starting his sales.  Except, for some odd reason, as the roll is called again, he says, "No." Jerry has now crossed an invisible line. When he's called in to a private hearing in front of the Vigils, he is instructed to begin selling the chocolates.  As days 12 and 13 pass with the same response to Brother Leon's roll call, the Vigils take Jerry's refusal as defiance of the organization's absolute authority.  

Unlike many works of fiction, Cormier doesn't provide for a tidy little ending where justice prevails and the reader's sense of fairness is met.  No, in fact, it's much more true to life than that.  As we see Jerry raised to hero status one week and then plummet to war criminal and betrayer of all that is right in their little universe the next, we come to find out how fickle humans really are. This was a difficult book for me and evoked many emotions. I was proud of Renault as he decided to follow the advice of his locker poster "Do I dare disturb the universe?" In my opinion, this world could use more individuality. As terrible as mob mentality sounds, it's a very real psychological phenomena. The chocolate sale was voluntary, Brother Leon has said so.  But the fingerprint reminders of how some teachers manipulate students and not only allow, but actually encourage the bullying of a child are all over this story.  Cormier's words immerse us so deeply into the culture of this school, it becomes extremely real.  So much so, that the reader will be both riveted and repelled and the heart aches at the outcome.

 

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