Robert Cormier, Fade (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1988)

Although he is considered a Young Adult writer, I have only recently discovered Robert Cormier. Although I live near his hometown, my first encounter with his work was through my interest in banned books. His The Chocolate War was the third most frequently challenged book of 2001 (it was first challenged in 1998), so I read it out of curiosity. It was much better than the books I read while a member of its recommended age group of 13 and up.

I then saw that Cormier was coming to speak at my local library, and I made a point to go. Unfortunately, he became rather ill and had to cancel, and before he could reschedule, he passed away near the end of 2000. This was quite a blow, and it made me all the more resolved to read this man's work.

Luckily, the YA section in my library is on the same floor as the adult books, so I didn't have to go upstairs to the Juvenile section to find more of his work (I get strange looks from mothers when I hang out up there too long trying to rediscover books from my youth). He is really a phenomenal writer. However, I understand why he is controversial. His protagonists are teenagers and he approaches matters of violence and sexuality with unflinching frankness. There were scenes in Fade that disturbed me, and who knows how I would have responded at fourteen.

Described by Stephen King as "what might happen if Holden Caulfield stepped into H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man," Fade is the story of Paul Moreaux and is written as a memoir. In 1938 in the small town of Monument, Massachusetts (patterned after Cormier's hometown of Leominster), Paul has just turned thirteen and has discovered that he can make himself invisible -- or "fade." His uncle Adelard also has the ability (it passes from uncle to nephew) and attempts to teach Paul the ins and outs of the phenomenon. At first, Paul is thrilled -- as anyone would be -- but he soon finds that what appears on the surface to be a gift might be something else entirely. Fade was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1989 and is truly a worthy novel. Taking a familiar story and crafting it for younger readers, Cormier has made it his own. It is surprising, compelling, original, and doesn't fall into the traps of most fiction. His characters -- especially Paul -- are so real that when the "facts" of the tale were debatable, my belief in the characters carried me through any doubts about their validity. Additionally, Cormier's writing is so rife with details, I felt as if I were reading an actual autobiography instead of a so-called "kids' book."

But what I loved most about Fade is that it surprised me. Just when I had gotten into the rhythm of the story, it changed tracks -- without one whiff of warning. And the change was perfect. It is this sort of imagination that I am constantly looking for in my reading, and when I actually find it, I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Let this review stand in for the shouting.

[Craig Clarke]