I Am The Cheese – Robert Cormier
Imagine discovering that your whole life has been a fiction, your identity altered, and a new family history created. Suddenly nothing is as it once seemed; you can trust no one, maybe not even yourself. It is exactly this revelation that turns 14-year-old Adam Farmer's life upside down. As he tries to ascertain who he really is, Adam encounters a past, present, and future too horrible to contemplate. Suspense builds as the fragments of the story are assembled—a missing father, government corruption, espionage—until the shocking conclusion shatters the fragile mosaic.
Review: This is going to be a very short review because everything about this book is a spoiler. Even the title is a spoiler.
Adam is on a mission to bring his father a gift in the hospital, but the only way he can get there is by bicycle. As he peddles through small New England towns, he remembers the event that destroyed his family and led to him spending time in a mental hospital. Half of this book is told in interviews between Adam and his doctor. The other half is about Adam’s journey to visit his father.
I was eager to read this novel because The Chocolate War was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I also really like Robert Cormier’s short stories. I Am the Cheese was first published in 1977. It’s a classic of young adult literature and a must-read for fans of the genre. Like the author’s other works, this one is unapologetically depressing. Adam has some serious mental health issues. Even he doesn’t understand how serious they are. The book has a few twists at the end that probably took a lot of bravery for the author to write. I love the twists, but many readers will find them disappointing. This book is full of ambiguity and unreliable characters.
I’m glad that this book helped pave the way for other realistic books about mental health. Some of the ideas about mental health may be outdated, but it’s still an important book. Adam is a sweet kid who loves his family, but his life starts going downhill after he discovers family secrets that put them in danger and keep them on the run. None of the characters in this book can be trusted, not even the narrator.
The interview chapters are a bit dry and info-dumpish. I was always happy to get back to the chapters about Adam on the bike. I wish that the interview chapters had either been developed more or left vaguer. Even though the book is a quick read, I found them slightly boring.
On Adam’s journey, he experiences betrayal and fear, uncertainty and isolation. He has a very unusual life, but he’s still a relatable character. I enjoyed reading his story.