This is the fourth novel I read by Robert Cormier and the one I felt was the most straightforward in creating a character and a story to which I, the reader, could feel that intense struggle for when it comes to realizing why he is the way he is. I did feel that Adam Farmer in I Am The Cheese was a relatively strong, enigmatic character that had dimension to him, but Francis Cassavant in Heroes was a central character that dealt with a struggle of his time period and it was easier to make the connection of what a World War II veteran would have to go through. I was eager to read this novel since hearing about it through research on Cormier's novels, but since I am working on a senior thesis about the divisions between those that declare war and those that fight in war among the rest of the general population, now was a good time to go over this particular work. Through Goodreads, I came across mixed opinions, but I feel that it deserves much more credit than the general consensus has to say about it.
Francis Cassavant is eighteen years old and returned home from the war due to injury. After landing on a grenade and saving members of his troop, Francis lost much of his face. Specifically speaking, Francis lost his nose, which became two large caves, his lips and gums, and much of the skin on his cheeks that was replaced with skin from his thighs. He conceals this injury by wearing a scarf over much of his face so that all you can see are his eyes. He often keeps his head down as well. Francis lost his parents at a very young age, his mother before his father, as well as his brother. He lived with his Uncle Louis during his teenaged years before joining the military at a very young age. Leading up to his forging his birth certificate in order to get into the military, we learn about his hero that he now wants to murder. Larry LaSalle served as a mentor to Francis and his peers. The two people Larry served the greatest role for were Francis and his talent in table tennis and Nicole Renard and her talent in dancing. Nicole just so happened to be the girl that Francis had a crush, which started to escalate as the novel progressed.
The paragraph below will explore twists that may serve as spoilers. Skip this portion if you do not wish to be spoiled. Read it if you do not mind.
Going into the novel, the information provided in the summary becomes to clear and Francis' desires become more justified, unless you are faithful to the idea that "two wrongs don't make a right." Larry LaSalle was not only a mentor for Francis and his peers at home, but also when he volunteered to join the military immediately and become an instant hero. Unfortunately for Francis and Nicole, he took this honor a bit too far when returning home and creating a strain that changed both of their lives forever. This is where we learn why Francis joined the military and why he wants to kill Larry. We also get an idea of the different forms of pain one has to go through in order during or after their participation in the military. While Francis is dealing with terrible circumstances with the loss of his face, Larry has issues that are both physical and mental, with which he conceals quite well, but yearns for better.
I felt that Cormier excelled at those different areas he has continuously succeeded. Cormier is known most for his blunt depictions on life and his protagonists usually end up in a circumstance that is either worse or indifferent from before. He reminds us that life is all always about living happily ever after, but instead it is a learning experience that is not always going to make up happy when all is said and done. This novel had its twists and turns of things that could have been expected, but he did a good job swaying our attention away in order to give us more details to keep the story driving. We knew that something would happen between Francis and Nicole since Nicole was nowhere to be found in town when Francis returned home, but what and how remained the question. As the story progressed, we got a much better understanding with where it was going.
I also liked the idea of how the story moved from present and past according to what we needed to know at what particular time. Instead of going in chronological order, the novel starts in the present before we learn more about who Nicole and Larry are and what kind of role they play in Francis' life. The progression and the character structure is probably what allows this novel to excel. I would not consider it to be absolutely perfect, but it is the Cormier novel that I felt had the most reasonable flow to it. It leaned on a background that could be most realistically tragic, even if there were moments that do not happen every so often. It was also reflective of the World War II era with how Francis told the story, omitting words he felt were not appropriate for this period of time, which was able to stand the test of time for a novel that was written in 1998.
If you are looking for an opinion as to whether or not you should check this novel out, I say check it out. My previous Cormier reads include The Chocolate War, I Am The Cheese, and The Rag & Bone Shop, the first two novels were perhaps his most notable, while the last one was his final novel and an insane way to end such a magnificent career. I have rated all of Cormier's novels were a four-star rating, because I feel that they are just one step below perfection (in my mind). At large, however, I see Cormier as being a five-star writer who should garner more YA fans. His works are not reflective of the dystopian or fantasy novels that crowd this particular genre in this modern day and age, but instead a more realist view of the struggles that high school students may have to endure. While 20th century writers from S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) and Lois Lowry (The Giver) are still studied, Robert Cormier seems to fade from the high school curriculum (no pun intended). I highly suggest the novels of Cormier and if you are looking for something quick, easy, but powerful, then Heroes is a fine place to begin!