I Am the Cheese

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by Robert Cormier. Novel. 256 pages. Grades 5-9.
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Review

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This is a frightening novel which, like many of Cormier's books, makes the reader as afraid to go forward as his main character is. Cormier never makes things easy for us and this is one of his most mind-boggling.

Adam is riding his old, almost unrideable bike toward a hospital in Vermont where, he is convinced, his father waits for him. Interspersed with the exhausting and sometimes frightening trip, we read flashbacks from a taped interview between Adam and an enigmatic interviewer.

We learn that Adam and his mother and father have been relocated through a witness protection program—a fact that was not shared with Adam until he discovered some evidence on his own. However, his father has kept the specifics of the testimony from Adam for his own protection. Gradually, Adam discovers that the manipulation hasn't ended there and with him we find out what's happened to his parents.

It is also revealed, on those tapes, that Adam has been and is being heavily medicated, that his memories are full of gaps and that this interviewer, for reasons of his own, is helping him work his way through those gaps. Eventually we learn what the interviewer recommends for Adam's future.

Our realization that all of this is still impersonal, that the powers-that-be can have acted so callously, is the deeper horror in the book.

This is a hard, cynical and fascinating book.


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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • The title of this book seems absurd until you put it in the context of the story. Then it takes on a special meaning. What things do you have to understand about I Am the Cheese to interpret the title? Explain the title to someone who has not read the book.

  • This book uses flashbacks as part of the story. How does the author let you know that a certain part isn’t happening now but happened some time ago? What does that do to the story? If the author left out those passages, how would that change the story.

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