I Am The Cheese Discussion Guide
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
About the Book
In I Am the Cheese, Robert Cormier brings a nightmare scenario to life. The chilling book has three narrative threads. In the first, we meet Adam through his own first-person accounts; he is a teenager who is on a difficult journey, traveling by bike to meet his father in Vermont. In the second, we read transcripts of taped interviews of Adam and someone who seems to be a psychiatrist helping him recall his past. Adam seems terrified of what's happened in his past, though he's also scared of the gaps in his memory. Through these transcripts, we learn that while working as a journalist, Adam's father gathered evidence of widespread corruption and has testified before a secret government committee. As a result, his whole family was given new identities for their own protection. In the third thread of this sophisticated novel, we discover that Adam's journey to Vermont is really a trip of his imagination as he rides his bike around an institution's garden. Adam's parents have been killed, betrayed by the man who had been their link to the protection program. Adam himself is alive only because bureaucratic rules prevent his "termination" (so far). His very life is at the mercy of those who allowed his parents to be killed. His sanity, it becomes clear, has already been sacrificed.
Before Reading the Book
Explain to the students that I Am the Cheese uses a few different methods of storytelling. Some chapters are told by the main character, as he explains his adventures. Other chapters are transcripts of interviews between the main character and someone who seems to be a psychiatrist. Ask students to write down any questions they have as they are reading. The questions might be addressed to the narrator or the person who has compiled the transcripts. After they have finished the book, discuss their questions with them. Were all of their questions eventually answered in the book? Read the discussion questions below for more ideas.
After students have finished reading the book, guide a discussion using questions like these:
- In the first chapter and in many of the subsequent chapters, the narrator tells his own story of traveling by bike to Vermont. Did you feel that the narrator was reliable? Did you have questions that the narrator left unanswered, such as why he was visiting his father in Vermont? What other questions came to mind as you read?
- Many of the chapters in the book recount taped interviews between Adam and Brint, who seems to act as his psychiatrist. Name some of the ways that Courmier builds suspense. Did you want Adam to reveal all he remembered to Brint? Why or why not?
- Amy Hertz likes to pull "numbers" on others in her town. How do Amy's numbers compare to what happens to Adam?
- Adam, or Paul, is taking some sort of medication at the hospital. By the end of the book, what conclusions do you reach about what the medication does to Adam?
- There is an expression "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you." Talk about that expression in relation to Adam's reactions to Brint's prodding.
- In the song "The Farmer in the Dell," the cheese stands alone. Think about the title of the book and Adam's plight in the institution. Do you see any hope for Adam, standing alone against these forces?
- I Am the Cheese presents a pessimistic view of society. In this view, corruption is so widespread that individuals who try to stand up against it are crushed by what seems to be a conspiracy of government and criminal forces. Does this view make you think of other books or TV shows that you're familiar with? Do you have a more optimistic view of the society you live in?