Well known for writing hard-hitting young adult fiction like The Chocolate War and I Am The Cheese, author Robert Cormier enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the genre. While I enjoyed all of Mr. Cormier’s books, Fade immediately came to mind when a colleague reminded me that my next regularly scheduled post was going to come during Banned Books Week. First published in 1988, Fade ranked #65 on the ACLU’s list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 (Chocolate War sits at #4).
While dipping into the realms of horror and science fiction, Fade tackles tough human issues like child abuse, incest, isolation, sex, violence and the price of redemption. Told from a shifting, first person narrative perspective, Fade “feels” real, like a manuscript account of actual past events. Mr. Cormier’s muscular and uncompromising prose style lends the story a brutal affect that delivers its emotional power like a gut punch. What would you do if you suddenly found you could turn invisible? That’s what happens to young Paul Moreaux in 1939. Living in Frenchtown in the New England section of the country, Moreaux and his French Canadian parents live hard-scrabble lives on the back-edge of the Great Depression. Blessed with a host of siblings, Paul undergoes the normal changes and tribulations of a 13 year old of his era, but finds he must also wrestle with a greater demon. The Fade. Informed by his Uncle Adelard that this strange ability to fade from sight has been in their family for hundreds of years, Paul also learns that the power always passes from uncle to nephew.
While initially exultant in his new ability, Paul soon learns that being invisible exposes him to the many dark secrets hidden behind the closed doors and drawn curtains of Frenchtown. Mr. Cormier’s unvarnished descriptions of the various misdeeds of the people of Frenchtown, and Paul’s reaction to them, regularly landed him in hot water with censors interested in “protecting” younger readers from their harsh realities.
Perhaps more galling to censors, and something largely unspoken in the criticisms of the book that I have read, is the almost relentless nihilism and sense of personal horror that pervade Fade. While Paul possesses the power to turn invisible, the consequences of living with it cause him to fade in other ways. He fades from the lives of his family. His health fades. His life eventually fades.
Fade explores a lot of forbidden territory for a YA novel. Its unconventional structure and adult themes make it extremely accessible for adult readers, and even to this day a constant target of censors.