I Am the Cheese
by Robert Cormier
I Am the Cheese Summary
How It All Goes Down
The neat (or should we say terrifying) thing about I Am the Cheese is that it has two parallel narratives, told in almost-alternating chapters. Check out the "Narrator Point of View" section for more on this. At some point early on, we realize that both narratives involve the same teenage boy, but the two stories are kept pretty distinct until the very end. That's why Shmoop thinks it best to summarize each of these stories separately for you.
I am Adam Farmer...
Our teenage narrator, Adam Farmer, is biking from Massachusetts to Vermont to visit his dad in the hospital. As if the trip weren't difficult enough, Adam is afraid of pretty much everything, from dogs to open spaces to people stealing his bike.
Throughout his journey, Adam thinks about a few people who are important to him: his father and mother (whom he has mixed memories of, some pleasant, others not as much) and Amy Hertz, his girlfriend. Oh, and sometimes he sings "The Farmer in the Dell." (Rebecca Black wasn't around in the '70s to get stuck in people's heads). Adam also encounters a string of individuals, some stranger than others, who each interact with him in a unique way.
Through a series of revelations, Adam realizes that everything he thought was current in his life is actually in the past: Amy Hertz's phone number is no longer hers (and hasn't been for three years), and the motel he remembers having stayed at the year before is abandoned (and has been for three years). Adam totally freaks out.
Next thing we know, Adam is arriving at the hospital in Vermont, and we realize that he is a patient there. As he walks through the hospital, he passes the same string of people he'd met on his bike journey. In his hospital room, he keeps singing "The Farmer in the Dell," and he wonders why the doctor is calling him Paul.
Then the bike ride starts all over again....
...Or Am I?
This narrative begins in transcript form. A man named Brint seems to be interviewing Adam, and they begin by discussing his first memory. He thinks about how, when he was very young, he and his parents abruptly left their home and relocated, as if they were running away from something.
Starting early on, and throughout their interview sessions, Adam becomes suspicious of Brint's intentions.
Adam doesn't remember much. Actually, he doesn't even remember what he should be remembering. Slowly but surely, some memories come back: running away from someone with his dad into the woods; pulling pranks with his girlfriend, Amy; a falsified birth certificate; a phone call from an aunt he never knew he had; and finally, finding out that someone from his hometown had never heard of his family. A little fishy...
Brint asks questions. A lot of questions.
Then another memory: after a series of spooky events, including visits from a man named Mr. Grey, Adam finally pressed his dad to tell him what was going on. The answer was not very comforting. His dad had been a witness to government corruption. The whole family's lives were in danger, so they were put under the Witness Re-Establishment Program. They had to change everything, including their names (Adam was really named Paul Delmonte). Mr. Grey was the person keeping them safe.
Brint asks more questions, mostly about Adam's dad and the government corruption.
The final memory is tragic: a car barreled into the Farmer family, killing Adam's mother and injuring Adam. Adam isn't sure what happened to his father, but he did hear the people responsible say, "They'll get him," and he seems to remember recognizing one of the men....
The last chapter of this narrative is, in a complicated nutshell, a transcript of Brint discussing:
a) Mr. Grey's professional termination from government work, and
b) How he couldn't get any more information out of Adam because of his amnesia.
He suggests re-hiring Mr. Grey and either "terminating" Adam, or waiting until he "obliterates" (32.3).