Josiah's Reviews > 8 Plus 1

8 Plus 1 by Robert Cormier
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Jun 21, 11

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Read from June 20 to 21, 2011

"I have always pondered a tragic law of adolescence. (On second thought, the law probably applies to all ages to some extent). That law: People fall in love at the same time—often at the same stunning moment—but they fall out of love at different times. One is left sadly juggling the pieces of a fractured heart while the other has danced away."

8 Plus 1, P. 41

For the most part, great young-adult writers are commonly compared only to other young-adult writers, and even then usually only to those who are of their own time. One doesn't often hear comparisons between Neil Gaiman and Charles Dickens, Lois Lowry and Jane Austen or Jerry Spinelli and Mark Twain. Therefore, one gets perhaps an inkling of the nearly incomparable genius of Robert Cormier when comparisons between him and visionaries of masterpiece literature such as William Golding and J.D. Salinger come up, not just occasionally, but again and again and again. For who captures the every part of the human soul with the stunning elegance and outright terror to be found in Robert Cormier's writing, hitting so close to home for each of us in a nearly endless variety of painfully relevant ways?

Terror is not to be found in abundance in 8 Plus 1, though. I suppose that death takes a holiday here, so to speak. Instead, Robert Cormier has compiled nine of his most personally telling short stories into a single novel of deep and surpassing beauty; not beautiful as much for the words that are used or dazzling descriptions sewn into the text like lovely crochet, but for the simple plainness behind the stories, and how they each carry the strong scent of real life in the way that we regularly experience it. What could be more beautiful than a novel that mimics to perfection the rhythms of real life, and teaches us important things about ourselves as we hop on and go along for the ride?

It's easy to tell that the nine stories that make up 8 Plus 1 were all originally published in magazines, separate from each other. Some stories borrow little incidents from others in the collection, and some names (Ellie, for one example, and Jerry) are used repeatedly for different characters. It can feel slightly odd to read a little quirky fact about one person and then have that same offbeat bit of information show up to describe a completely different character in another story, and to have both stories be contained within the same book, but it's no big deal, and it's a tradeoff well worth the brief moments of "huh?", if it means having all of these meaningful vignettes compiled in one place.

The stories each come with an introduction by Robert Cormier, who generally gives a little bit of background for how he was feeling at the time when he was writing the story in question, or what incident first sparked the idea that would eventually blossom into the miniature tale as it stands in 8 Plus 1, or what unique difficulties arose when he tried to write that particular story. He tells us about the ways that his children's adolescence seemed, at times, vastly different from his own, and also how he ultimately realized that the lives they were leading were much more similar to his than they were different, regardless of the disparity in generation. This was how Robert Cormier was always able to keep in tune with what young people were thinking and how the mechanism of their hearts worked; he understood as few others are able that he and they were essentially the same, and it mattered not how many years had passed since Cormier had been a teenager himself. He always remembered. Always...

8 Plus 1 takes readers along the entire gamut of emotion, fearless in addressing any topic and often leaving stories somewhat unfinished if that is how they were best (and most honestly) told, but I would have to say that the best story of the book is the one the author leaves for last, Bunny Berigan—Wasn't He a Musician or Something?. In my view, it may be the most astute tale of the whole lot, and by itself makes the book worth reading.

I guess that the most unusual element of 8 Plus 1 is the way that it acts like a bridge between young-adult and adult readers. Most young-adult stories focus on teenagers or kids as the main protagonists and feature adults only as peripheral characters, but these nine stories are different. The perspectives are split equally between young people and adults, with Robert Cormier taking the time to paint the true, raw emotions of both sides toward a meeting of the minds in the middle. It's as if Cormier understands young minds and he understands adult minds, and in this book he has found a way to masterfully orchestrate a reconciliation between the two sides. I've never seen this done as skillfully as Robert Cormier does it here. A thing of real beauty, it is, but then...since when has Robert Cormier ever written a story that wasn't a thing of pure beauty?

8 Plus 1 is an impressive success, and I certainly would recommend it. I would consider giving it three and a half stars.
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Quotes Josiah Liked

Robert Cormier
“I have always pondered a tragic law of adolescence. (On second thought, the law probably applies to all ages to some extent). That law: People fall in love at the same time—often at the same stunning moment—but they fall out of love at different times. One is left sadly juggling the pieces of a fractured heart while the other has danced away.”
Robert Cormier, 8 Plus 1

Robert Cormier
“You bring up your children to be self-reliant and independent and they double-cross you and become self-reliant and independent.”
Robert Cormier, 8 Plus 1


Reading Progress

06/20/2011 page 38
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