I first became fascinated by the writing of Robert Cormier in 1987.
As a component of my Bachelor of Education degree, one of our professors said we had to critique a number of children’s books, including YA literature. I hadn’t read children’s literature in a long time and I was unfamiliar with many of the current writers; however, the professor provided us with a list of well-known books, and told us we could always critique classics.
I did not know who Cormier was at the time and I chose one of his books blindly, I have to admit. The book just happened to be his most famous, The Chocolate War.
The book, to use a cliché, was spellbinding. I kept rooting for the hero, Jerry Renault, to overcome the bullying attitudes presented in his school and I knew – I just knew – he would triumph.
Alas, he doesn’t and the reader is kicked in the shins. There is no happy ending; certainly no sweet revenge for Jerry.
This couldn’t be, I assured myself. Being hopeful, I learned that Cormier had written another book, Beyond the Chocolate War.
Of course, I told myself, there had to be a sequel to make up for the devastating ending of the first book.
Kicked in the shins a second time.
But Cormier had managed to hook me all the same and now I have read everything he’s written. Or, at least, published.
Never did find that happy ending.
Cormier stressed that there were rarely happy endings in life and, of course, he was right.
The last book of his that I had not read, I Have Words to Spend, I read a few days ago.
Edited by his wife, the book is a collection of articles, blogs by today’s standards, written for a newspaper and magazine, both of which employed Cormier.
The articles are extremely insightful and thought-provoking. And most of them are incredibly touching, focusing on the man’s love for his family and how he misses the people he cared about and who have died. He uses the word, poignant, a lot and this is appropriate, seeing that the articles are exactly that.
What is most poignant though, is that Robert Cormier died at the end of 2000. Here is a man, alive through his words, speaking of those he loves and loved, and now he has joined the dead. Now it is our turn to contemplate his life and his contributions to life.
In one of the articles, he writes, “…we are constantly mindful of the transient quality of life, how nothing remains, everything changes…that we no sooner arrive than we are leaving.”
I reflect on this quotation and how truly significant it is to the last two blogs I wrote.
Yet, in the same article, Cormier’s tone is slightly more optimistic when he says, “Life renews itself. The arrangements are different but the melody remains. The seasons come and go but they never cease.”
And, in another article, he reminds us of the lack of happy endings in life. But he slips in the hope that shines for all of us, one that made me smile:
“But we can still try for a happy ending, can’t we?”
Having read this collection of memoirs, and grasping how close Cormier was to his wife and children, I think he succeeded in finding a few happy endings.