25 September 2010


Locus Focus: Take Twenty!!!

When I started planning this meme, I mentioned that even if no one else ever joined, I'd be happy to do it all by myself. And that really was almost the case until my Fairy Blog Mother decided I should have some company. So she waved her magic wand and sent the lovely Birdie my way. She seems to enjoy Locus Focus as much as I do, and I'm very grateful to have her as a blog friend! =)

But really, I'm grateful for everyone who drops by my party once in a while, and that is why I am celebrating twenty weeks of Locus Focus with . . . a Giveaway! =D

I've put it all the details of this new giveaway after our last School Setting for September, which I hope you'll also care to read about . . . =P

Classroom Nineteen
The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier

Jerry opened his locker. He had thumbtacked a poster to the back wall of the locker on the first day of school. The poster showed a wide expanse of beach, a sweep of sky with a lone star glittering far away. A man walked on the beach, a small solitary figure in all that immensity.

At the bottom of the poster these words appeared--Do I dare disturb the universe? By Eliot, who wrote the Waste Land thing they were studying in English.

Jerry wasn't sure of the poster's meaning. But it had moved him mysteriously. It was traditional at Trinity for everyone to decorate the interior of his locker with a poster. Jerry chose this one.

Now here is the dark side of having a learning environment that resembles reality. Remember that reality as we know it is fallen. We disturb the universe at our own risk--as Jerry Renault finds out when he disturbs his high school.

In many ways, I think high school is a war between students and teachers--and I've had the strange experience of fighting on both sides while identifying with the "enemy." (When I was a student, I wanted to be a teacher and so fancied I "got" them; when I was a teacher, I often sided with the students.) If people play by the rules and stick to their roles, it can be a "clean" war. But Cormier is not writing about anything remotely clean.

High schools are awful places, to begin with, but Trinity High School is rotten in ways that one hopes most schools will never be. It is being eaten alive from within by secrets, intrigues and the psychological games of both the headmaster and the pupil who runs the student body's "shadow" government. To these two figures, high school is like a chess match and everyone in it who isn't a big enough player is just a pawn.

I think the most haunting of the novel's early hints about what these power plays mean for the school is in the incident of Classroom Nineteen, which one student has been given as an "assignment" . . .

. . . "Everything in Brother Eugene's room is held together by screws. The chairs, the desks, the blackboards. Now, with your little screwdriver--maybe you'd better bring along various and assorted sizes, just in case--you start to loosen. Don't take out the screws. Just loosen them until they reach that point where they're almost ready to fall out, everything hanging by a thread . . ."

The student given this assignment has a single night--eight illicit hours--to loosen all the screws in an entire classroom, or else. (Or else what? It's never clear. Assignment completion, like locker decoration, is a tradition. And in Trinity High School, traditions are done without question.) It is an impossible task. After six hours of work in near darkness, he isn't even close to his goal--and he breaks down in tears. That is when he is joined by several masked figures who remind him that "the assignment is more important than anything else," join him in his task, and order him never to reveal to anyone that he had received any help.

The next day, Room Nineteen collapses--or as the text says, explodes. Desks and chairs collapse all over, and even the blackboard comes down "like a final curtain." The students go wild, and it is the teacher's turn to weep at at a malice he does not fully understand.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

This Week's Loci Foci:

J.R.R. Tolkien's Rivendell @ This Miss Loves to Read

Vladmir Nabokov and the Education of Lolita @ Birdie's Nest

First Ever Locus Focus Giveaway!

This international giveaway will run for one week--from 25 September to 1 October. I will announce the winner next week, on Scary Settings Challenge Day.

You qualify for the giveaway if you've joined Locus Focus in the past or join it for the first time today. (Well, everyone but Stilwell. =P You understand, right?)

The number of entries you get is equal to the total number of Locus Focus posts you've done--including the one you link up for this week, if you decide you'd like an extra entry. (Add them up for me in the combox. I trust your maths!)

If you win, you can choose ONE of the following books, which will be purchased through Amazon.com. (So be aware of your country's secret custom charges!)

To learn more about each title, you can revisit these past Locus Focus posts . . .

FAMILY HOMES CHALLENGE: Ramsey House (Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas)

SUBTERRANEAN SETTINGS CHALLENGE: The Downside (Downsiders by Neal Shusterman)

SCHOOL SETTINGS CHALLENGE: Alberto's Apartment (Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder)

Good luck to all! =D

Image Sources: a) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, b) Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas, c) Downsiders by Neal Shusterman, d) Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder


Sullivan McPig said...

That poor classroom!!

And I love your Locus Focus, but don't always join as inspiration doesn't always strike me.
I did do 11 locus focus posts according to a quick count so yes: please enter me in the giveaway

IntrovertedJen said...

I have not read this book, but it feels a little sinister. Could it fit into your upcoming Scary Settings challenge?

I'm also curious if you realize that today is the beginning of Banned Books Week in the US and The Chocolate War is all over our lists of frequently challenge books.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully: You are entered--and so far, you have no competition. LOL! Great odds, aye? ;-)

And I think you still hold the record for most Locus Focus entries! =)

By the way, as someone who has yet to get her "Word & Question" poem in, believe me, I know about needing inspiration to strike! I do appreciate the fact that you read my posts and take the time to comment. That really means a lot. =)

Jen: Yes, The Chocolate War is indeed very sinister. In fact, I had been planning to introduce it as a good bridge between the school settings and the scary settings, but forgot at the last minute. If someone wants to write more about Trinity High School for the Scary Settings Challenge next week, I'd be glad to read that post!

Thanks to the book blogosphere, I was aware that Banned Books Week was coming up, but I hadn't taken note of the date. What a coincidence, aye? I can totally understand why The Chocolate War was banned and is still being challenged. It's very dark, very gritty, and very uncompromising when it comes to the more cruel side of people--and not just any people, but teachers (whom we're supposed to be able to trust) and teenagers (who are still supposed to be young and innocent).

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I can't believe I've only just discovered this meme! I love, talking about book settings, specific fictional locations - that's just wonderful. I can't wait to come up with a scary setting, that should be fun to do.

Wow, and a giveaway? I've only participated in Locus Focus once, but I would still like to enter the giveaway. The books look great. So, consider me entered.;)

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I forgot to comment on your post.:)
Classroom Nineteen is SCARY. That makes it attractive to me in a weird way, like it's a room you'd want to explore, but the major part of me would simply want to walk away. But sinister is good to read, so I will definitely keep the book in mind.

And, I have a question about the Scary Settings challenge: can I choose a setting from a short story, or do only novels count?


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm so glad that you're linking up something this week, Irena. As you already know, I love your meme, so I'm glad you can enjoy mine, too. =)

And of course you're welcome to enter the giveaway. (And now Sullivan has a challenger! LOL!)

Now I'm off to read your post . . .

Enbrethiliel said...


What makes the story of Classroom Nineteen so sinister is that it's just one "victim" in the slow death of Trinity High School.

*cue dramatic music*


And short story settings are definitely welcome! =D

Birdie said...

What a wonderful compliment!!!! Thank you so much! I do love Locus Focus; I'm just so very glad I found it, and you!
This week my entry is a little, um, nontraditional...I'm always hesitant to write about the text I chose (Lolita) because it's such a controversial one, but her education is an important part of the story.

And I really like the classroom in this week's post. I'd HATE to teach in it, but it's a great idea.

Birdie said...

PS to clarify the "great idea" bit--I love the idea of practical jokes. I never play them on people, because most of the time there is an element of cruelty about them, but I LOVE a good wicked plan

Enbrethiliel said...


You're welcome, Birdie! =)

Oh, bring on the non-traditional entries! (I really liked Sully's discussion of fictional schools in general, to name one.) I've already read yours and think it makes a very good point. You might be able to tell that I'm a little down on the "Prussian" school system most of the world seems to have adopted, and I'm not a huge fan of overly structured learning environments--and that's why your post can give both balance and perspective.

The linky seems to be giving trouble again. I hope you don't mind that I'm linking it up for you? =)

PS--You're right that what happened to Classroom Nineteen could have been a great practical joke. If it had happened to my classroom, I would have been mightily impressed and amused that my students had been able to pull something like that off. But in this case, the cruelty is so magnified--the teacher is chosen precisely because he is the sort to react badly to such a thing--that it can't be taken lightly. The boy who thought up the joke is a true trickster, but he seems more intent on getting people to cry than to laugh.

Birdie said...

ooooh thanks! I promise I did post the link, but the interwebz ate it!

The only reason I can think of the Classroom 19 thing as a joke is because I know it's a fictional setting and I've just heard about it second hand. Were I reading it for myself, I'd probably be crying tears of absolute RAGE. Double standard much? LOL