Review: I Am the Cheese

I Am the Cheese

By Robert Cormier

A young man rides his bike to visit his father in a hospital seventy miles away. He is single-minded in his devotion to deliver a present to his father. Along the way he encounters many obstacles, from bullies to thieves to dirty old men.

Meanwhile, a series of taped conversations reveal the life story of Adam Farmer, who discovers that his parents have long been keeping secrets from him. Adam does not fully trust his doctor (who never actually admits to being a doctor when asked) and attempts to keep some of the secrets to himself, with varying results.

The two storylines converge, revealing larger secrets and shattered expectations. Can Adam survive what he discovers? And what’s up with that title?

When I first read this book in high school, I devoured it. I delighted in the related plots and never guessed how the two main characters were related until the author chose to reveal it. The reasoning behind the title, revealed in the last few chapters of the novel, resonated with me at that time. When I discovered the book in the fifty cent bin at a Half Price Books, I couldn’t resist getting it and rereading to find out if my opinion of the novel remained unchanged.

I still enjoyed the book. The two storylines are told in dramatically different styles. One is in present tense first person, while the other focuses on transcripts from a taped interview. Cormier does a great job presenting the information he wants the reader to know without breaking his storytelling rules. Overall, the prose is quiet and communicative.

The characters are strong. Within a few pages of their introduction, the reader has a good feel for who each character is. The driving force of the plot, the discovery of secrets, is well done. Tension builds slowly but inevitably.

However, I found that the secrets were too easily uncovered on this reading. I have not been able to discern whether that is because I’d already read the book and remembered something of the plot (in particular the relationship between the two main characters), or by reading with more mature eyes I picked up the clues more easily.

When I read the book in high school, the internet was just coming on the scene; I had just registered my first email address at hotmail. Cell phones were still a thing for rich people. Technology had not yet evolved to where we are today. The book was originally published in 1977 and it reflects that time incredibly well. However, some dated references have not aged well.

I found the resolution to be more than a bit of a let down. Once all the secrets are revealed, the story just sort of ends. I understand why the author chose to do as he did, but I find it unsatisfying. When I first read the book, I had been blown away, probably because the revelation of the secrets was much more startling at that time.

The book is a decent read and I’d still recommend it for early teen readers. Adults would probably enjoy it, though they might find it light reading. If you’ve read and enjoyed Cormier’s other novels, such as The Chocolate War, you’d probably be safe in picking this one up.

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