Frenchtown Summer

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Overview

Eugene is remembering the summer of 1938 in Frenchtown, a time when he began to wonder ?what I was doing here on the planet Earth.? Here in vibrant, exquisite detail are his lovely mother, his aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and especially his beloved, enigmatic father. Here, too, is the world of a mill town: the boys swimming in a brook that is red or purple or green, depending on the dyes dumped that day by the comb shop; the visit of the ice man; and the boys? trips to the cemetery or the forbidden ...
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Overview

Eugene is remembering the summer of 1938 in Frenchtown, a time when he began to wonder “what I was doing here on the planet Earth.” Here in vibrant, exquisite detail are his lovely mother, his aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and especially his beloved, enigmatic father. Here, too, is the world of a mill town: the boys swimming in a brook that is red or purple or green, depending on the dyes dumped that day by the comb shop; the visit of the ice man; and the boys’ trips to the cemetery or the forbidden railroad tracks. And here also is a darker world–the mystery of a girl murdered years before. Robert Cormier’s touching, funny, melancholy chronicle of a vanished world celebrates a son’s connection to his father and human relationships that are timeless.

A series of vignettes in free verse in which the writer reminisces about his life as a twelve-year-old boy living in a small town during the hot summer of 1938.

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Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
(Intermediate, Young Adult)
What an astonishment that the grandmaster of the YA novel has turned to poetry at this point in his career. And yet the enterprise has a sense of inevitability about it, because our immediate realization on opening these pages is that Robert Cormier had been writing blank verse all along but we just hadn't noticed. Check out the opening paragraphs of I Am the Cheese, the closing paragraphs of Tenderness, the descriptions of the transition to the Fade and the flight of the Bumblebee. In other ways, too, this work is a distillation of what has gone before. Cormieresque themes and symbols reveal themselves to the knowledgeable reader: the lonely, bookish boy; the bully; the snarling dog; the smell of lilacs; nuns in the classroom and priests in the confessional; hidden and revealed identity; dark secrets under the surface of ordinary life; forgiveness and redemption. The people and places, too, are familiar: the tenements, streets, and back alleys of Frenchtown; the comb factories; St. Jude's Catholic Church; the crochety shop owners. All familiar from Cormier's other novels, and yet the effect is fresh and newly intense in this story of a summer in which a young boy comes to understand his silent and withdrawn father. Warm, poignant; dare we say tender? But this is Cormier, after all, who can never resist a dark and ambivalent drama, and so this is also the summer when the boy finds proof (perhaps) of something he must never reveal about his beloved uncle Med and Marielle LeMoyne, who was found strangled with "a yellow necktie with black stripes coiled like a snake around her neck." A treat for Cormier fans, and a revelation for others. patty campbell
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
More wistful but equally as haunting as Cormier's usual fare, this novel in verse shapes an impressionistic portrait of a lonely, keenly observant boy living in post-WWI Frenchtown (also the setting for the novel Fade). Twelve-year-old Eugene finds his father enigmatic and distant: "My father was a silhouette,/ as if obscured/ by a light shining behind him./ He was closer to me waving from the street/ than nearby in the tenement/ or walking beside me." While hoping for some sign of paternal love or approval, Eugene quietly and contemplatively penetrates the secrets of Frenchtown. He watches as Mrs. Cartin contemplates taking a leap from the third-floor, stands by as a one-time friend becomes an outcast after a bout with St. Vitus' dance and connects his favorite uncle to an unsolved murder case. Every observation implies mystery and hidden dramas; while the short verse chapters seem less plot-driven than Cormier fans may expect, they subtly convey the shadows in Frenchtown and the action those shadows conceal. Feeling "as transparent as rain," Eugene is a ghostly presence here, taking readers back in time and slowly mesmerizing them with his memories of coming of age. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
This young adult author uses poetry to look back at his twelfth year through the perspective that time has given him. Cormier reminisces about his first love, first job, intense people and emotions, and the ambiguities in his relationship with his father. Each poem takes the shape of a story, each filled with insights and imagery only remembering can bring. 2000, Delacorte, Ages 10 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
From The Critics
This exquisite novel, told in lyrical free verse, tells the story of Eugene's twelfth summer in Frenchtown, Massachussets, sometime in the 1930s,when he falls in love for the first time, get his first paper route, loses his favorite uncle, and connects with his emotionally distant father. Each chapter is a separate poem and the novel is episodic in structure. Although many of the events may seem minor, the poetry Cormier uses to show readers Eugene's life in unforgettable. Cormier brings a long forgotten era to life with this book. Readers expecting his more typical explorations of the darker elements of humanity may be disappointed, but those who savor beautiful imagery and the evocation of past times will be thrilled. Eugene's story may not be catastrophic or life threatening, but it is eventful and thought provoking. Reluctant readers may be enticed by the brief text. Genre: Coming of Age/Poverty. 1999, Delacorte, 113 pp., $16.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Ellen Greever; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-In taut verse, Eugene provides verbal snapshots of his town, the enigmatic adults around him, and his own growing sense of self. A lyrical tour de force that packs an emotional wallop. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Frenchtown Summer (Delacorte, 1999), set just after World War I in Monument, MA, is Robert Cormier's somewhat autobiographical, coming-of-age novel in verse. The short chapters become snapshots which together form a portrait of one summer in the life of Eugene, a sensitive boy. Actor Rene Auberjonois reads the poems in his resonant, expressive voice. His gentle voice is so steady and even that listeners may not even realize that they listening to verse. With pauses and changes in tones, Auberjonois adds touches of mystery or excitement when needed, but mostly he is careful to let Cormier's words speak for themselves. The second tape is an interview between Cormier and historian Leonard S. Marcus in which they discuss the background to the novel, the numerous autobiographical elements it contains, and Cormier's style and methods. Cormier's speech with its soft r's betrays his New England heritage and provides a nice change from the book itself.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440228547
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 6/12/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.15 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Cormier
Robert Cormier (pronounced kor-MEER) lived all his life in Leominster, Massachusetts, a small town in the north-central part of the state, where he grew up as part of a close, warm community of French Canadian immigrants. His wife, Connie, also from Leominster, still lives in the house where they raised their three daughters and one son–all adults now. They never saw a reason to leave. “There are lots of untold stories right here on Main Street,” Cormier once said.

A newspaper reporter and columnist for 30 years (working for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Fitchburg Sentinel), Cormier was often inspired by news stories. What makes his works unique is his ability to make evil behavior understandable, though, of course, still evil. “I’m very much interested in intimidation,” he told an interviewer from School Library Journal. “And the way people manipulate other people. And the obvious abuse of authority.” All of these themes are evident in his young adult classic and best-known book, The Chocolate War. A 15-year-old fan of his said, “You always write from inside the person.”

Cormier traveled the world, from Australia (where he felt particularly thrilled by putting his hand in the Indian Ocean) and New Zealand to most of the countries in Europe, speaking at schools, colleges, and universities and to teacher and librarian associations. He visited nearly every state in the nation. While Cormier loved to travel, he said many times that he also loved returning to his home in Leominster.

Cormier was a practicing Catholic and attended parochial school, where in seventh grade, one of his teachers discovered his ability to write. But he said he had always wanted to be a writer: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to get something down on paper.” His first poems were published in the Leominster Daily Enterprise, and his first professional publication occurred while he was a freshman at Fitchburg State College. His professor, Florence Conlon, sent his short story, without his knowledge, to The Sign, a national Catholic magazine. The story, titled “The Little Things That Count,” sold for $75.

Cormier’s first work as a writer was at radio station WTAG in Worcester, MA, where he wrote scripts and commercials from 1946 to 1948. In 1948, he began his award-winning career as a newspaperman with the Worcester Telegram, first in its Leominster office and later in its Fitchburg office. He wrote a weekly human-interest column, “A Story from the Country,” for that newspaper.

In 1955, Cormier joined the staff of the Fitchburg Sentinel, which later became the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise, as the city hall and political reporter. He later served as wire and associate editor and wrote a popular twice-weekly column under the pseudonym John Fitch IV. The column received the national K.R. Thomason Award in 1974 as the best human-interest column written that year. That same year, he was honored by the New England Associated Press Association for having written the best news story under pressure of deadline. He left newspaper work in 1978 to devote all his time to writing.

Robert Cormier’s first novel, Now and at the Hour, was published in 1960. Inspired by his father’s death, the novel drew critical acclaim and was featured by Time magazine for five weeks on its “Recommended Reading” list. It was followed in 1963 by A Little Raw on Monday Mornings and in 1965 by Take Me Where the Good Times Are, also critically acclaimed. The author was hailed by the Newark Advocate as being “in the first rank of American Catholic novelists.”

In 1974, Cormier published The Chocolate War, the novel that is still a bestseller a quarter century after its publication. Instantly acclaimed, it was also the object of censorship attempts because of its uncompromising realism. In a front-page review in a special children’s issue of The New York Times Book Review, it was described as “masterfully structured and rich in theme,” and it went on to win countless awards and honors, was taught in schools and colleges throughout the world, and was translated into more than a dozen languages. I Am the Cheese followed in 1977 and After the First Death in 1979.

These three books established Cormier as a master of the young adult novel. In 1991, the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association presented him with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, citing the trio of books as “brilliantly crafted and troubling novels that have achieved the status of classics in young adult literature.”

In 1982, Cormier was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and its Adolescent Literature Assembly (ALAN) for his “significant contribution to the field of adolescent literature” and for his “innovative creativity.”

8 Plus 1, an anthology of short stories that have appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, The Sign, and Redbook, was published in 1980. In later years, many of the stories in the collection, notably “The Moustache,” “President Cleveland, Where Are You?” and “Mine on Thursdays,” appeared in anthologies and school textbooks. The collection also received the World of Reading Readers’ Choice Award, sponsored by Silver Burdett & Ginn, especially notable because young readers voted for Cormier to receive the prize.

I Have Words to Spend, a collection of his newspaper and magazine columns, was published in 1991, assembled and edited by his wife, Connie.

Robert Cormier’s other novels include The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, 1983; Beyond the Chocolate War, 1985; Fade, 1988; Other Bells for Us to Ring, 1990; We All Fall Down, 1991; Tunes for Bears to Dance To, 1992; In the Middle of the Night, 1995; Tenderness, 1997; Heroes, 1998; and Frenchtown Summer, 1999. This novel won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction in April 2000. All his novels have won critical praise and honors.

In the Middle of the Night and Tenderness were short-listed for the Carnegie Medal in England, and Heroes received a “Highly Commended” citation for that same award, unique honors because the Carnegie is traditionally awarded to a British book.

Cormier's novels have frequently come under attack by censorship groups because they are uncompromising in their depictions of the problems young people face each day in a turbulent world. Teachers and librarians have been quick to point out that his novels are eminently teachable, valuable, and moral. His novels are taught in hundreds of schools and in adolescent literature courses in colleges and universities.

Though many of his books are described as written for young adults, in fact people of all ages read and enjoy Cormier’s work. His themes of the ordinariness of evil and what happens when good people stand by and do nothing are treated seriously, and he never provides the easy comfort of a happy ending. Cormier’s gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.

In an interview last year, Cormier was asked if he had accomplished what he set out to do at the beginning of his writing career. He answered with characteristic humility: “Oh, yes. My dream was to be known as a writer and to be able to produce at least one book that would be read by people. That dream came true with the publication of my first novel–and all the rest has been a sweet bonus. All I’ve ever wanted to do, really, was to write.” That writing has left the world a legacy of wonderful books, a body of work that will endure.

Biography

With The Chocolate War, an unsparing story of corruption and brutal vengeance at a Catholic boys’ school, Robert Cormier turned what had been the sunny world of young adult fiction upside down. The book launched Cormier on a highly successful and often controversial career, in which he tackled the darker issues of adolescence and American suburban life.

Like the anonymously authored Go Ask Alice in 1975, an at times harrowing story of drug abuse for young adult readers, the Chocolate War – and others of the author’s books -- ran into trouble with parent groups who found the writer’s subject matter inappropriate and his approach too explicit. (According to Herb Fostal’s Banned in the USA, The Chocolate War was fifth on a list of the most frequently banned books in American public libraries and schools in the 1990s.)

Reviewers, however, praised his writing. A journalist for much of his life, Cormier balanced his characters’ grim situations with a deft, vivid, lyrical style. Reviewing The Chocolate War, a critic for The New York Times Book Review described it as “masterfully structured and rich in theme; the action is well crafted, well timed, suspenseful; complex ideas develop and unfold with clarity.” When it came to themes, Cormier was unromantic and unflinching. In I Am the Cheese, Cormier evoked the uneasy and elusive world of a boy whose father has testified against organized criminals; in The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, the story pivots around terminally ill teenagers; in Tenderness Cormier introduced a serial killer and a sexually manipulative teenage girl. “Every topic is open, however shocking,” he told a reporter for The Guardian in November of 2000, in what would be one of his last interviews. “It’s the way the topics are handled that’s important.” In Cormier’s world there are no easy answers and few happy endings, but there is extraordinary insight into the world of adolescence: the cruelties, the isolation, and the often-bruising search for identity.

Despite his reputation as a disturber of the literary peace, Cormier was a small-town writer, who spent nearly his entire life working as a journalist for the Fitchburg Sentinel in Massachusetts; he published a memoir of his career in 1991 titled I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor. In addition to four novels for adults, Cormier wrote one last novel for young adults, Frenchtown Summer, the story of a young teenager’s arrival in a new town told entirely in the boy’s poetry. He died on November 2, 2000.

Good To Know

Robert Cormier never lived more than three miles away from the house where he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts.

Cormier included his own phone number as that of one of the characters in I Am the Cheese, and wound up taking calls from thousands of teenagers.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Fitch IV
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 17, 1925
    2. Place of Birth:
      Leominster, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      November 2, 2000
    2. Place of Death:
      Leominster, Massachusetts

Read an Excerpt

Doorway Shadows

That summer in Frenchtown in the days when I knew my name but did not know who I was, we lived on the second floor of the three-decker on Fourth Street. From the piazza late in the afternoon I watched for my father, waiting for him to come home from the Monument Comb Shop. No matter how tired he was, his step was quick. He'd always look up, expecting to see me, and that's why I was there, not wanting to disappoint him or myself.

That was the summer of my first paper route, and I walked the tenement canyons of Frenchtown delivering The Monument Times, dodging bullies and dogs, wondering what I was doing here on the planet Earth, not knowing yet that the deep emptiness inside me was loneliness.

I felt like a ghost on Mechanic Street, transparent as rain, until the growling of Mr. Mellier's dog restored my flesh and blood and hurried me on my way. I was always glad to arrive home, where my mother, who looked like a movie star, welcomed me with a kiss and a hug. My mother filled the tenement with smells, cakes in the oven, hot donuts in bubbling oil, and hamburg laced with onions sizzling in the black pan she called the Spider. She loved books, lilac cologne, and me.

My mother was vibrant, a wind chime, but my father was a silhouette, as if obscured by a light shining behind him. He was closer to me waving from the street than nearby in the tenement or walking beside me. On summer Saturdays, the men gathered at the Happy Times bar or in Rouleau's Barber Shop and talked about the Boston Red Sox and the prospects of a layoff at the Monument Comb Shop while my brother, Raymond, swapped baseball cards in Pee Alley with his best friend, Alyre Tournier. I stood beside my father as he listened to what the men were saying, smoking his Chesterfields, and I wished I could be like him, mysterious, silent.

I was not famous in the schoolyard, or on the street corners, content to cheer for Raymond, who was a star at everything, baseball at Cartier's Field, Buck Buck How Many Fingers Up? in the schoolyard, while I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or A Study in Scarlet on the piazza, avoiding the possibility of dropping a fly ball in center field.

My paper route took me from the green three-decker next to the Boston and Maine railroad tracks where downtown Monument met Frenchtown, along Mechanic and all the numbered streets from First to Twelfth. My last customer was Mr. Lottier at the end of Mechanic Street next to the sewer beds. I held my nose as I tossed the paper to his piazza. He always smiled when he paid me on Friday, as if his nose didn't work.

That summer, Frenchtown was a place of Sahara afternoons, shadows in doorways, lingering evenings, full of unanswered questions and mysteries.

It was also the summer of my twelfth birthday, the summer of Sister Angela and Marielle LeMoyne (even though she was dead) And my brother, Raymond, and all the others, but especially my uncle Med and my father.

And finally it was the summer of the airplane.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel is written in free verse that condenses and intensifies emotions. How does this style of writing change your reading experience and your understanding of Eugene’s world?

2. In the first sentence of the novel, Eugene refers to “that summer in Frenchtown in the days when I knew my name but did not know who I was.” What do you think Eugene learns about himself by the end of the book?

3. When Eugene gets his first pair of glasses, he can literally see the world vividly for the first time. What can he see figuratively?

4. There is death all around Eugene throughout the novel, yet he seems shocked to learn that his father is not immortal. How do you explain this?

5. Eugene often wonders if his father loves him. What are some examples of how his father does love Eugene? How does the airplane incident at the end of the novel signify his father’s love for him?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2003

    Simply a gorgeous book

    The chapters are so simple and profound. Robert Cormier really adapted his style into poetry in this book. It is one of my most beloved novels ever.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The book Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier wasn¿t anything l


    The book Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier wasn’t anything like I had ever read before. The author brought so much life to the setting and characters of the book. I could easily picture the scenes that the author imagined. But what really made this book so interesting was the way Robert changed the mood. At times it was enchanting what the author expressed, but then in the next line was something heartbreaking. He really kept you turning the page to see what else he had to offer in the story put in lyrical verse.

    The series of scenes that the author portrayed were so very different, but very important. They conveyed the occasions in twelve year old Eugene’s childhood and it didn’t seem as if they were connected together and if so, it was rare. It seemed as if the author was simply listing important people and occasions in the young boys life, but once I read the last page I saw the connection.

    The novel by Comier revealed the excitement and sensitive feelings of a young boy. The love of planes and trains, the fear of death, the coming of crushes, and the admiration of a father are things that I’m sure most boys could relate to. Read about Eugene’s overcoming of loneliness and the discovery of his fathers true feelings toward his son in Frenchtown Summer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    Training area

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    Loved.

    The chapters were short and simple. Plus easy to read!

    This book just took me inside of its enchanting, simple world.v

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews

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