“The farmer in the dell,
the farmer in the dell,
heigh-ho, the merry-o,
the farmer in the dell.”*
If I were to judge a book by its title or cover, Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese is definitely not a book that I would pick up. In fact, I probably would have gone my entire life without touching it if it weren’t for the fact that one of my teachers assigned it for my class in Young Adult Literature. For that reason, I’m glad I took the class.
Like most of Cormier’s books, I Am the Cheese is set in the town of Monument, Massachusetts. It is a fictional setting based on the author’s own home town. In this story, the main character is Adam Farmer and doubles as my pick for PopSugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge as a book with an unreliable narrator, because young Adam Farmer is precisely that: unreliable.
Adam Farmer grows up with a rather complicated life: his family is part of the early stages of the Witness Protection Program. They are relocated to Monument after his father uncovers deeply rooted corruption among government officials and, as a result, testifies against them. Having been young at the time, Adam only knows his life as it now and goes about his day to day business as any boy his age would. He meets and falls in love with a girl named Amy and one day decides to skip school and bike to Rutterberg, Vermont so that he can deliver a gift to his father, who is currently in the hospital. As Adam tells us his story of visiting his father, we are simultaneously introduced to him in the future, where he is currently under psychiatric care. There, he is urged to recover his memories via sessions with Brint. During these sessions, the reader learns more Adam and his family.
I really can’t say a whole lot more about the book other than that without revealing spoilers, but what I can say is that this book has more twists and turns with sharp jerks than those little mini-coaster rides at a theme park. You know, the ones that leave you with bruises instead of making you scream with glee? Even better, these twists are rather dark in nature – more so than I would have expected for a book labeled Young Adult back in the 70s. It’s extremely rare for me to find myself questioning elements of story throughout an entire book, but I Am the Cheese succeeded in doing just that.
Another interesting element to I Am the Cheese, and one of the many traits it shares with Post-Modernism literature, is the use of several different styles of writing within its pages. While the book has alternating perspectives, there is a clear distinction when each perspective changes: first person is from Adam’s point-of-view; the interview transcripts are from recordings of Brint and Adam speaking; the final style is third-person limited, with most of its focus centered directly on Adam and what goes on around him.
I was also surprised to learn, via my instructor, that the number Adam calls to try and reach Amy was actually Cormier’s personal phone number. He had put it in the book so that if readers called it, they would be able to speak with him – particularly during less happy moments in their life. That alone is deserving of kudos.
I Am the Cheese is undoubtedly one of my favorite Young Adult books and, as a result, I definitely plan to read more of Cormier’s books, especially since many of them have startlingly dark themes.
*This variant of “The Farmer in the Dell” is from the novel I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier.