Banned Books Week: Robert Cormier’s Fade

credit: ala.org

  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.

–Scott

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Banned Books Week: Robert Cormier’s Fade

  1. lectorconstans

    From the Amazon site: “… known for his deeply pessimistic, downbeat literature….”

    “… the almost relentless nihilism and sense of personal horror that pervade Fade…”

    Another comment at Amazon: “Sometimes authors can be separated into “Authors That End Their Depressing Book Hopefully” and “Authors That End Their Books In Deep Dark Dank Despair”. Robert Cormier is of the latter category.”

    Perhaps one of these days when I wake up smiling and happy, I’ll pick up a Cormier book.

  2. lectorconstans

    PS: The website Chicago Now has an article “This is Banned Books Week: 10 Most Challenged Titles of 2011″.

    I’m surprised at
    “Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit” and
    “To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism”

    Whatever racism there is in Mockingbird is there to expose it

    I didn’t know there was nudity in Brave New World. The one I read had no pictures at all..

    • Hah-hah! Theater of the mind, you know! Thanks for pointing out those Amazon comments and reviews–looks like Cormier’s nihilism has not gone unnoticed. However, this makes me think of a favorite quote:

      “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
      –Ernest Hemingway

      Scott

      • lectorconstans

        Hemingway had the right idea. Just like bones, in fact. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the broken ones that didn’t heal. (I remember reading that he thought he was running dry as a writer, and couldn’t deal with that.)

  3. Rebekah

    “I Am The Cheese” is a great read and my mom and sister both taught the book in their junior high english classes. I also recommend “After the First Death” about terrorists who hijack a school bus. It’s very emotional stuff and was written during another period of time when war in other countries became quite real close to home.

  4. im reading that book now and it has NONE of that kind of stuff its a really great book and a must read to everyone

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