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Are Cormier's Teen Novels Sending the Wrong Messages?

June 02, 1998

Re "Unhappily Ever After" by Lynn Smith (May 26): I have read several Robert Cormier novels and have found them well-written but disturbing. For young adolescents particularly, I think they may be dangerous.

"The Chocolate War" presents such a bleak view of life that, as my son put it, "You might as well just kill yourself."

UCLA professor Virginia Walter's statement, "If there's no hope, at least there's no false hope, which is worse," is grim.

Michael Cart, president of the Young Adult Library Services Assn., complains that his childhood reading misled him to expect love and a happy life resulting from hard work. But is that such a bad expectation? Must we discourage young people from wanting a good life and a decent world?

Cormier's novels are best read by adults and older teenagers who are mature enough not to be disturbed by them. When I gave my then-14-year-old daughter Cormier's "I Am the Cheese," she said, "Why did you give me this? It made me cry."

MADERE OLIVAR

Los Angeles

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Last night, my 13-year-old daughter finished reading Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a school assignment. Afterward, she and I talked for hours about the book's unvarnished view of human cruelty and kindness, sorrow and hope. If my own experience with the book is any guide, the bittersweet ending will remain with her into her adult life and shape her view of the world.

How will the readers of Robert Cormier's trendy, despairing books see the world 20 years from now? Will they echo Cormier's bleak vision by dismissing all hope as false--and what kind of adult world will they themselves fashion?

Great writers have never shunned redemption and hope as literary themes, nor dismissed them as "irrelevant." In his rush to pander to young people's sense of despair and isolation, Cormier is denying his readers half the truth of what it means to be human.

BONNIE SLOANE

Los Angeles

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