In the Middle of the Night
by Robert Cormier. Novel. 192 pages. Grades 7-9.
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Denny's father is being harassed by late night phone calls and letters which he seems to accept with an odd kind of passivity. When he was sixteen, he was an usher in a theater where twenty-two children were killed and, although he was absolved of all blame for the disaster, some think he was at fault. Now Denny is sixteen and is himself being harassed and seduced by a mysterious voice on the telephone. He needs to understand his father, a good but uncommunicative man, and he needs to face himself before he faces others. Like all Cormier's work, the tone is ominous, and the suspense propels the reader toward the climax.
This is a book about guilt and betrayal as well as expiation. Cormier's skill is obvious and worth examining, especially as the reader is apt to suspect before John Paul does, that the caller who is so seductive and friendly on the phone, is the worst of his father's harassers. The deadly trap she fashions for him is thwarted by her own brother, leaving Denny still confused but more aware of his feelings.
The book poses many tough moral choices for his characters, including but not restricted to Denny and young readers should be able to imagine themselves forced to make similar ones--perhaps they already have. Also, Denny, resenting his father's passivity, states, "The opposite of peace is war" and he resolves to fight against the forces destroying or at least controlling his father. Is war the opposite of peace? Are there middle grounds? What is peace, anyway, if it is not just the absence of war? Is it worth dying for?
Cormier has said that he wants his readers to understand that life does not guarantee a happy ending and this book certainly underlines that statement.