Vicious and violent mob cruelty in a boy's prep school is not a new theme but Cormier makes it compellingly immediate in this novel of Trinity High, a boys' day school with the close, concentrated, self-contained atmosphere of a boarding school, temporarily headed by the venomous, manipulating Brother Leon and unofficially run by power-obsessed senior Archie Costello, the ingeniously audacious "assigner" for a secret organization called the Vigils.
A typical Vigils assignment, which no student would consider refusing, is to spend the night undoing the screws of all the desks and chairs in one classroom, so that they collapse on touch next morning. More serious though is the assignment given to freshman Jerry Renault, who must refuse for 10 days to participate in the chocolate sale on which Brother Leon has staked his position. In strong, staccato scenes that shift from one boy to another Cormier tells about Jerry's persecution when he decides spontaneously to go on saying no after his ten days are up and Brother Leon induces Archie to see this as defiance of the Vigils. No underworld gang closing in on a victim is more menacing than this teenage army led by a Leon-Archie alliance against one boy whose locker poster reads "Do I Dare Disturb the Universe."
Mature young readers will respect the uncompromising ending that dares disturb the upbeat universe of juvenile books.