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'I Am The Cheese': A Nightmarish Nail-Biter

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'I Am The Cheese': A Nightmarish Nail-Biter

'I Am The Cheese': A Nightmarish Nail-Biter

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now a new series about books for kids specifically young teenagers. We're calling it PG-13. It's around 13 that young readers begin to crave the adult stuff. Even if they know they're not quite ready, they're eager for a taste of grownup ideas. And for our series, authors will share the books that helped them make the hard turn into adolescence.

Here to kick things off is author Ben Marcus.

BEN MARCUS: Adam Farmer is riding his bike. He carries a package for his father and needs to get it to him fast. OK, so far, "I Am the Cheese," by Robert Cormier, is a perfectly harmless adventure story. But there's something weird about this bike trip. First of all, it's really far away.

Adam has to ride from Massachusetts to Vermont, on a kid's single speed bike. Can you even do that? He's just started and he's exhausted. Then harder questions: Why is Adam alone? What's going to happen when it gets dark?

This book made me worry. I was 12 and I trusted books. Their stories, the plots and characters, were straightforward. Had I heard of unreliable narrators? No. Did it occur to me that someone my age could be separated from his parents and have to find his way back to them? No.

So I read it and I worried and I couldn't put it down. It became this nail-biter about my own survival. I was Adam Farmer. I was on that bike and I had to get back to my parents. And then it gets worse.

After every chapter there's an interview with this creepy doctor, asking Adam about his past. Adam tries to remember but he's having trouble. And the questions keep coming. They're from some kind of government organization that seems to think Adam has a secret - if his name is even Adam. What?

At this point, my mind was officially blown. Who were those people who visited his home, the doctor asks Adam? Who was the Gray Man who would only speak to Adam's father down in his cellar? And what were Adam's parents whispering about when they thought Adam was asleep?

Meanwhile, Adam's bike ride is getting harder. A dog gets in his way. His bike is stolen. The landscape feels like a nightmare. Is this really New England? Why does it seem like Adam is pedaling but not getting anywhere?

I don't want to spoil this book because I'm hoping you'll read it like I did - all at once. Trust me that the story only gets more urgent. And when you find out where Adam has really been riding his bike, you'll feel unzipped and undone, and so blown away you'll never read the same way again.


SIEGEL: Ben Marcus is the author of the book "The Flame Alphabet." The book that launched his mind into new works is "I Am the Cheese" by Robert Cormier.

At our website, you can find more PG-13 recommendations as well as lists of summer reads from our critics and correspondents. That's all at


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