I am the Cheese

11th September 1998 at 01:00
I am the Cheese
By Robert Cormier
Puffin, #163;4.99 each

Robert Cormier writes elegant, pared-down prose, but his stories are complex and full of emotion, and they deal with difficult subjects. He believes that young people are equal to the challenge of his books, and now a new generation is about to be shocked, thrilled, entertained and, above all, made to think.

"I am the Cheese" first appeared in 1977, and is still way ahead of most thrillers for teenagers. On one level, the story is about a boy making a dangerous journey on his bike to deliver a parcel to his father in another state. We never learn the contents of the parcel, but we are not left in any doubt about the importance of delivering it. But is this boy the same person as the one whose words are being taped? Is one narrative layer the past and another the present? And, at the end, are we sure of the identity of all the protagonists? I won't give the story away, but it's nail-biting stuff. It also says much about family, love, loyalty, memory and trust, and says it with enviable economy and grace.

"Fade" first appeared in 1988. It's a tour-de-force of fantasy writing, with a Stephen King endorsement on the cover. But, as Maurice Sendak once remarked, the best fantasy writing is rooted "10 feet deep in reality", and in this extraordinary work we are never absolutely sure that anything supernatural is happening. It might be a novel about the power of fiction. It might be the most autobiographical novel Cormier has written. It brings to life a Massachusetts town in the 1930s, so that you feel you know your way around it. It describes sexual awakening, and impulses of violence and bullying and friendship and love. Hats off to Puffin for re-issuing these amazing books.

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