Synopsis: I am the Cheese goes back and forth from our protagonist, Adam Farmer, going on a bike ride and Adam in a therapist’s office. The bike ride consists of Adam taking a package to his father from Monument, Ma. to Rutterburg, Vt. He runs into characters that want to steal his bike, and he ends up hurt. He gets a ride to some cabins that he stayed in the previous summer with his parents. He learns from locals that the cabins have been closed for 2-3 years. He also calls his girlfriend Amy several times during this ordeal, but a gruff guy answers and informs him that he’s had this number for 3 years. We’ll come back to this bike ride, but the ride indicates things are not as they seem.
Adam’s dialogue with his “therapist” Brint is the important part of the book. Brint’s not your average family therapist: he wants specific information, he seems bored, and is a bit antagonizing. Adam calls Brint on all of this, so it’s not like Brint’s hiding it. Their discussions go back to when Adam started suspecting something about his family. His girlfriend, Amy, called him when someone from his hometown was in her dad’s office and the guy had never heard of the Farmers. Adam instinctively covers up, and wasn’t too troubled but is a little curious. Then he eavesdrops on his mom’s regular Thursday phone call, and learns he has an aunt. Previously, he believed that they were without any family. He also finds that he has two birth certificates with two different birth dates when he’s snooping in his dad’s office.
Dad finally tells him that they are in witness protection because of information he found as an investigative reporter. Although there are never any specifics told (presumably to protect Adam), the information was about government corruption. He testified to closed-door committees, and things happened– quiet arrests, sudden resignations. Later, there was a bomb planted in Dad’s car and a hitman almost shoots him, but Mr. Grey shot the hitman first. Mr. Grey was one of the people who put the Witness Protection (not called that in this book) in place, and he put protections on the family. It was early Witness Protection, so it was kind of badly planned out. Examples: The Italian Anthony Demonte had his name changed to David Farmer ( how WASP-y can you get?) and Adam’s birth certificate mix-up. The family died in a car crash (so the papers said), and moved. One theme in this book is that Dad sings “The Farmer and the Dell,” and calls it the family song, presumably for toddler Paul Demonte to learn his new name, Adam Farmer.
Shortly after Adam/Paul finds this information out, they get a phone call saying they need to get out of town for a few days. This happens when Mr. Grey overhears information that may mean their cover is compromised. They decide to have a New England holiday for the weekend. They stop at cabins and it seems like a sweet bonding time for the family, not a family in danger. (They’ve had false alarms before, and are hoping this is one of them.) They notice a car following them, and they let the car pass. It’s some of Grey’s men, so they feel relieved and stop at a view to stretch. The car comes back, barreling into them. Mom dies instantly, Dad runs but is injured, and Adam sees gray pants before he blacks out.
We learn that his bike ride that has been intermittently going through the book was actually a bike ride around the facility where he lives. He finds out for certain that his father is dead. He ends the book by singing the verse in “The Farmer and the Dell” that goes “The cheese stands alone,” and as he is sedated he calls himself the Cheese. We also read a report from Brint, who has questioned Adam like this for three years and has had the exact same results. He offers some recommendations regarding Adam: first, that Mr. Grey should be taken off suspension because only circumstantial evidence indicated that Mr. Grey gave the “Adversaries” the cover. Second, he continues life in the matter he has lived in for three years, or until termination can be approved.
This is a book that involves a lot of retrospection and connecting the dots. I wasn’t able to sum this up right after I read it, I needed a day to digest. I also needed one paranoid sleepless night to finally get it. (No, the book didn’t give me nightmares. Loud neighbors who are up to no good just kept me awake!) This is my second reading of the book, and I’m still trying to figure out if the facility where Adam/Paul is being taken care of is a good place or a bad place. When Adam blacks out, he hears that maybe the boy will be useful. He has to be taken somewhere, and it’s unlikely that someone other than these people took him. Adam’s father identifies the car as Grey’s men, and while we don’t specifically hear Adam say, “Grey’s men came back and hit us,” we have a hard time thinking otherwise, especially when he sees gray pants. So, where would he have been taken to be useful? A place to be questioned endlessly about what he knew. Also, since it was gov’t corruption, and a gov’t agency protecting the family, why wouldn’t the government be involved in interrogating the boy? So, I’m going for Grey blew their cover because he somehow got involved in the corruption, and this facility is bad. But, that is something you have to come to your own conclusion about. I am no expert, that is certain.
Since I just went there, the government conspiracy is the main reason why it has landed on challenged book lists (not as often as Cormier’s The Chocolate War,which I also got from the library to review soon, but still).We don’t generally talk about the government plotting to terminate a 17 year old boy for “residual psychological damage.” I did read that it was challenged (at least once) for sexual content, but literally, it was maybe a page about how Adam liked to kiss Amy and Amy’s frankness about big boobs. Sometimes people blow things out of proportion when challenging books, and this is one case. Everything else in the book overshadowed Amy, and sometimes people disturb me when they focus on things like this. I will save my rant for an essay. 🙂
The Class Part:
Grades: 6-high school. I was actually trying to see what number I am the Cheese got on the banned list, and I couldn’t find it. (However, I know it at least was at one point because I did a research project on challenged books last year.) They actually suggested this on ALA’s site as a book for challenging gifted kids from grades 5-10 due to the complex structure of the book. It is very complex, so I wouldn’t hand it off to any ol’ kid. I may put it on my class bookshelf starting at 7th grade.
Grade: A. I know I give a lot of A’s, and I guess I’m generous, but I think this book deserves an A even though it’s not going on my favorites shelf. It’s very well written and complex. I had to read it twice (ha, I read it last year and this year– so maybe I’m going through this with Adam/Paul for the rest of my life too), and I’m still trying to figure out the implications of the book. That alone makes it an A.