Robert Cormier


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Heroes Summary

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Heroes, published in 1998, is a novel written by American author Robert Cormier who is known for addressing darker subjects his in books for young adults. Cormier is also the author of the award-winning novel, The Chocolate War— one of the most frequently challenged books in the United States between 1990 and 2000 according to the American Library Association. Heroes deals with themes such as trust, betrayal, religion, and what it means to be a hero. The book tells the story of Francis Cassavant who returns home from fighting in the Second World War deeply disfigured with a Silver Star for courage and a plan to seek revenge against local hero Larry LaSalle, with whom he has a troubled history. The story is told in flashbacks of Francis’ childhood and his innocent romance with his classmate, Nicole Renard.

At the beginning of the novel Francis Cassavant returns to his hometown of Frenchtown in Monument, Massachusetts after the end of WWII with the express purpose of killing Larry LaSalle. Francis is deeply disfigured because during his time in the war he threw himself on top of a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. He is self-conscious about his appearance and so he wears a white silk aviators scarf given to him by a friend he made in the hospital over the lower half of his face and a Red Sox cap low over his eyes. Francis speaks with other veterans at the Recreation Center– called the “Wreck” Center because it used to be a wedding hall before the tragic murder of a woman named Marie Blanche Touraine by her ex-boyfriend during her wedding reception. The building was closed and then repurposed as a community center by people hired as part of a municipal program created by the “New Deal” during the Depression. The veterans express pessimism about the future and a lack of confidence in the ability of the GI Bill to help them rebuild their lives.

The story flashes back to Francis’ childhood. Larry LaSalle is charismatic and popular, known for encouraging fellow townspeople to dance, play sports, and join other group activities to bring the community together. Francis is a shy kid and LaSalle helps him to develop confidence by teaching him to play table tennis, earning him a reputation as a table tennis champion. Francis eventually defeats LaSalle in a game– a source of pride until he learns that LaSalle let him win. When Francis is twelve years-old a new girl moves to town from Albany, New York named Nicole Renard and Francis instantly falls in love with her. At first Francis is too shy to even approach Nicole but when she starts dancing at the Wreck Center the two become close. Their relationship is sweet and innocent and they spend a lot of their time visiting the local movie theater. One night Larry, the first in town to enlist in the war, is home on furlough at the Wreck Center with Francis and Nicole. He asks Francis to leave so that he can have one last dance alone with Nicole. Nicole asks Francis not to go but he does anyway at Larry’s urging. Francis waits outside and stands frozen there in panic when he hears the sounds of Larry raping Nicole inside. When Nicole realizes that Francis heard what was going on but failed to protect her, their relationship deteriorates. At first, Francis considers suicide, but instead decides to forge his documentation so that he can enlist in the army, even though he is underage.
Back in the present, after the war, Francis finally encounters LaSalle again. He finds that Larry was also injured, having lost both of his legs during the war. Larry is surprised to learn that Francis knew about what he did to Nicole and shows no remorse about what happened between them. Francis can’t bring himself to make good on his plan to avenge Nicole by killing Larry and so he walks away. As Francis leaves, he hears the sound of gunshots coming from Larry’s building, indicating that Larry has committed suicide. Francis finds out that Nicole has moved back to Albany and he takes the train to New York and seeks her out. He hopes to rekindle his relationship with her but she rebuffs him, claiming that she can never forget his betrayal at the Wreck Center. Nicole gives him one last kiss goodbye and suggests he write about his experiences during the war. Uncertain about his future, Francis takes the train out of Albany. He considers taking Nicole’s advice about taking up writing, or seeking out a plastic surgeon to reconstruct his face.
Some critics have suggested that the character of Francis Cassavant is based on the author Robert Cormier. Heroes has been described as Cormier’s darkest novel. Publisher’s Weekly writes that the story “will hold fans from first page to last, and set them thinking about what really lurks behind the face of a hero.”