I Am the Cheese

By Robert Cormier; Alfred A. Knopf, 1977; pp 234.

Awards: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year

Plot: Fourteen-year-old Adam Farmer believes his past holds a dark secret and is determined to unravel his past.

Understatement.

The book opens with Adam setting off on a bicycle trip from Monument, Massachusetts, to Rutterburg, Vermont to visit his father at a hospital. Three narrators shifting between third- and first-person shed light on this boy’s mental state and dark past. Each word of the opening chapter unveils a clue, an edge piece in this jumbled puzzle of a life. It is through conversations with Adam’s psychiatrist that the reader learns that his father, an investigative reporter whose muckraking broke a government conspiracy, was forced to enter a witness protection program and change his identity. As Adam pedals to Vermont, many people try to thwart his progress. Adam learns that he began life as Paul Delmonte and the government agent assigned to protect the family killed Adam’s mother and father. Still Adam (or Paul) pedals. Having never left the hospital, but pedaling to the brink of insanity.

 Reading Level: Ages 12 and older

Review: It is difficult to categorize this book. It starts out like an adventure, when 14-year-old Adam Farmer sets out on a bicycle from Monument, Massachusetts, to Rutterburg, Vermont to visit his father at a hospital. But dear reader, do not ignore one single detail in the opening chapter, or, like the young Adam Farmer, you will find yourself backpedaling to unravel the protagonist’s mysterious past. Chilling psychological thriller? Mystery? Adventure? Suspense? All of these and more. At the conclusion of this book, I had to fight the urge to begin reading it again …pedaling, like the protagonist. With three narrators, revealing clues and glimpses to troubled Adam Farmer’s past, this book will be a challenge for the mature tween reader, but, oh, they will love it. Granted, young readers may roll their eyes at some of the ancient media—land line phones, pay phones, newspapers—presented in this book, but the underlying themes of alienation and youthful uneasiness hold up since its publication 30 years ago.

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