Ever since The Chocolate War was first published in 1974, the book has incited violent protests from some schools, teachers, librarians, and parents for its supposedly pessimistic portrayal of life, its sexual imagery, and its violence. It has also been criticized as needlessly vulgar and skewed toward the worst of human nature (Carlson and Bagnell). It is number five on the list of banned books in public schools and libraries according to the book Banned in the USA by Herbert Foerstel.
The Chocolate War did, however, garner early praise from educators and the National Council of Teachers of English, which at its 1975 convention had speakers calling it "Watergate at the high school level," "the best YA (Young Adult) book to come out within the last half dozen years," and "a book deserving defenders" (Nilsen). In general, English teachers and students have been the work's primary supporters, with its detractors mainly being literary critics and parents' groups.
A new theory regarding young adult fiction, debated among educators, critics, and school librarians, began in the mid-1970s. During this time, a trend of middle and high schools students reading young adult fiction rather than classic Victorian, Romantic, or Early American novels appeared. Robert C. Small, a leading writer on the subject, explains that many of these young adult novels were "working models" of the well-written adult novel. Small states that The Chocolate War, in particular, has a "tightly constructed plot and important, interrelated subplots," and is a "perfect working model of the more involved and more subtle plots of Conrad and Hardy." The fact that these novels won increasing acceptance as the years passed did not dissuade various municipal and parents' groups from objecting to the subject matter of The Chocolate War.
As late as 2000, in a town very near to the author's own Leominster, Massachusetts, local parents attempted to have the book banned from their children's eighth-grade English class. The argument was that while the book had merit, it was too violent, sexual, and profane for children of that age. In 2006, an Idaho school board rejected a petition to remove it from the ninth-grade reading list because it depicts Christians in a negative light.
Cormier continued to defend his novel up until his death in 2000. He said that there must have been something right about how this book was written, because it continues to cause controversy. Cormier has said in an interview that his goal has been to "communicate the emotion that I want [the reader] to feel. I sacrifice everything to that." The Chocolate War, Cormier's most critically and commercially successful novel, has continued to incite strong emotions for over thirty years.