Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

i am the cheese robert cormier Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

In his seminal young adult novel'The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier examines issues of power and governance, highlighting that ruling entities traditionally perceived as benign are not necessarily so; moreover, these entities will use others' perception of them to oppress, manipulate, and wage wars of ideology. The book is a powerful, chilling read, and one examines the gradual breakdown of trust and the severing of support until the individual necessarily stands alone, and is perhaps all the more disturbing for the way in which it is framed within such a trivial pursuit: the selling of fundraising chocolates.

In'I am the Cheese, Cormier also engages with these themes, but pushes them even further, creating an astonishing narrative rife with paranoia that brings to mind the dystopian worlds created by Orwell, and the existential ambiguity of Dick. The novel is not dystopian as such, but its engagement of an oppressive, ruthless government, a pointed commentary given that its time of writing was not long after the Watergate scandal; its depictions of the machinations of the shadowy, anonymous figures who populate its pages; and its consideration of issues of identity and the ways in which it can be reconstituted or deconstituted makes it difficult not to consider it within this particular literary legacy.

I am the Cheese takes a dual narrative approach, braiding together two linked but asynchronous stories that the reader realises will inexorably collide, and in doing so will solve, at least to some degree, the mystery that is being unravelled, or perhaps extracted, clue by clue. The book's opening should be almost nondescript, depicting as it does fourteen-year-old Adam Farmer as he sets out to take a parcel to his father, who lies in hospital some several hours' bicycle ride away. But the reader feels an almost immediate sense of foreboding at the breathless internal monologue to which Adam treats us: what should be a simple trip fills him with terror, and his ambivalence in setting out on the first place is evidence in his desperation to telephone his girlfriend, and in his continual hypothesising about the horrors that will undoubtedly come his way. This niggling discomfort sets in further when the dual narrative of interrogation begins: this narrative line depicts artefacts from taped interviews in which Adam is interrogated by a man known as Brint.

As Adam pushes onwards, travelling on his bicycle and becoming increasingly nervous as he encounters all manner of seemingly normal things that serve to terrify him, were also treated to a number of flashbacks that serve to bridge the reality of his bicycle ride with the cold distance of the taped interviews. Adams recollections are odd, confused, and when tied in with the braid of the rest of the narrative, the reader is slowly able to glean something about his character, if not his situation. There is the time when his father without warning dragged him into a nearby; his mothers whispered talks with an aunt he has been told does not exist; the two birth certificates both bearing his name, but with different dates of birth. There is the fact that others seem to have little recollection of his family; the strange visits from a man Adam hazily recalls is named Grey; the telephone numbers that no longer connect. This slowly dispensed information combines with the increasingly stark, cruel interrogative narrative until we begin to realise that Adam is not the ward of a well-meaning therapist, but is being coldly pressed for information that he seems unwilling, or unable to provide.

Im loathe to give away the ending, which is stunningly moving, brutally frank, and highly ambiguous all at once, but I will say that Cormier toys with identity, reality, and belonging with sublime incision. Adam is in a sense reborn anew at several stages in the book, yet is entirely lost at the same time. Its telling that he longs to be an author, and that he and his father have in common their mutual love of literature, as literature, endlessly generative and renewing, and entirely internal, is the one thing that cannot be stolen away from them. Moreover, Adams act of bringing the parcel to his father is itself an endless cycle, representing both the infinity of loss as well as internal renaissanceindeed, the gift, the stuffed toy that Adam held so dear as a boy, is perfectly emblematic of his lost childhood.'Identity, too, is problematised all throughout the book, with only one character in the book retaining a single identity as everyone else becomes another, or stops becoming at all. Grey, for example, as his name suggests, is such a fleeting, amorphous character, and turns out to be someone entirely different from whom he purports to be; the moral ambiguity hinted at by his moniker is in full force at the end of the novel. Similarly, Brint, Adams interviewer, turns from therapist to interrogator to judge. Adam and his family, of course, are many themselves, but are simultaneously forced to be no one as they withdraw from the world, something that Adam does entirely when Brints interrogations prove to be too much.

As this last suggests, this book ends on a note that is starkly terrifying, and that challenges to bleak effect the notion of the benign ruling power. I am reminded of The Life and Times of Michael K , which I recently reviewed, in which K can only protect himself from the machinations of others by retreating entirely into himself until he is no longer anyone at all.

Rating: star Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierstar Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierstar Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierstar Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierhalfstar Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

Purchase I am the Cheese

See also our comparison of I Am the Cheese and If I Could Fly

Other books by Robert Cormier

the chocolate war cormier Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierwe all fall down cormier Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormierafter the first death cormier Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

pixel Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
Be Sociable, Share!
  • more Review: I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier


  1. Ah, this is one of my favorite books of all time. I stumbled on it in a tiny little resale book shop near my college, about 6 years ago now. Im not sure what exactly drew me to the book in the first place (maybe the word Cheese?) but Ive read it a number of times since its just so good. My only Cormier read, so far but I picked up The Chocolate Wars recently, so I hope to rectify this soon!
    Adam recently posted..Saturdays- Uncensored! 11-13-2010

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Adam! Its interesting, I think the title to me at first glance had connotations of the big cheese, so the book completely threw me when I actually read it. I think youll really enjoy the chocolate war. Its almost like Lord of the Flies in a school yard, but with adults egging on the kids rather than being absent.

      I have another Cormier on the way and cant way to get to it. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

Add us to your Google reader: Add to Google

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin