I Am the Cheese
by Robert Cormier
I Am the Cheese Introduction
In A Nutshell
617-537-3331. No, we're not giving you your crush's digits (sorry). That's I Am the Cheese author Robert Cormier's phone number. How do we know? Well, it's not because of our special Shmoop powers. Actually, Robert Cormier published his number in I Am the Cheese (as the number of one of his characters) and fielded calls from readers for years after. (Check out this interview with him where he talks about how he always got "a delight" out of these calls.) It turns out, despite the somewhat dark tone of this book, that Robert Cormier was seemingly a pretty normal guy. (Sadly, he passed away in 2000 at the age of 75.)
I Am the Cheese is the story of a boy named Adam who is on a physical journey through New England and a mental journey through the past, revisiting his traumatic childhood and trying to uncover lost memories. Sound spooky? It is.
I Am the Cheese was published in 1977, the year that Elvis Presley died (or did he?) and Star Wars opened in theaters. Since then, the book has won a bunch of awards, including the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association and a place on the American Library Association's list of Best Books for Young Adults. It has also sparked some controversy, mostly because of the ending (which we won't spoil quite yet). But Cormier was already used to criticism. His previous young adult book, The Chocolate War, had stirred up so much controversy that it was (and still is) banned in many schools. (Check out Shmoop's take on it.)
I Am the Cheese was made into a rather creepy movie – with a cameo by Cormier himself – in the 80s, but it got dreadful reviews. We, for one, are not surprised – between the double narrative of the story, the three different points of view, and the fact that most of the book that is made up of one character's internal monologue, not even Spielberg could take this one on. It's almost too good to be a movie, so you'll just have to read it.
Why Should I Care?
As a psychological thriller of sorts, I Am the Cheese gives the reader a lot to think about. As we read, we are caught up in the internal turmoil of the protagonist. Adam is growing up and, like all of us, he's just trying to figure out who he is. The problem, though, is that someone else has been deciding that for him.
Don't we all feel that way sometimes? Like someone else is pulling the strings? From parents to teachers, world leaders to Oprah, these people all want what's best for us, but they don't always seem to care what we think that is. (Oprah never even put I Am the Cheese in her book club – what does she know?)
Even our friends can have this effect. So what if we still like Justin Bieber, even though our friends tell us he's so 2010? So what if we're not into skinny jeans? So what if we spend our free time on Shmoop instead of Facebook? Just because our friends and other peers think our tastes are a bit off, we need to remember to be ourselves. This is even more important with bigger issues like sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
In I Am the Cheese, Adam's whole family is told how to live their lives – in a much more extreme way than most of us will ever have to deal with. But it reminds us that we are lucky. For the most part – especially in the United States --we have a lot of control of our own lives, even as young people. So take advantage of that and be who you are. We might not know what's best for ourselves either, but we have to at least give it a shot.