This is the only one of Robert Cormier’s novels I feel comfortable recommending to younger readers. While I teach a number of Cormier’s works at the university level, the issues they contain are in general too starkly expressed, and too troubling, for me to consider the experience of reading them something I want to give to those I love. Tunes for Bears to Dance To (1992), I might, as well, if the reader were looking for a troubling novel with a powerful and effective social message. But Other Bells for Us to Ring, unlike Fade (1988) or Tenderness (1996) or After the First Death (1979), has a beauty in it that warms the soul. The ending does not leave us mourning for the characters, but rather believing in the miracles that true friendship and faith can bring into an otherwise desolate life.
In Other Bells for Us to Ring (published in the UK as Darcy in 1991), Darcy Webster and her new friend Kathleen Mary O’Hara are inseparable. The two girls share everything, and strengthen each other in their youthful struggles. Darcy is Unitarian; Kathleen is Catholic, and shares with Darcy the new and—for Darcy—exotic world of Catholicism. In a visit to her Church, Kathleen “baptizes” Darcy with Holy Water, solidifying in her mind the bond that has grown between them, but at the same time adding to Darcy’s uncertainty about who she is, and how she fits within her family, her religion, and her community. Darcy’s father has gone to war; as Christmas approaches, he is registered as “missing in action.” Darcy’s mother sinks into depression, with migraines that cause her to neglect her child, who of course needs her mother even more, as she tries to come to terms with her father’s possible death. The only stable thing in Darcy’s life is Kathleen, who struggles with her own family situation: poverty and an abusive, alcoholic father. Kathleen promises Darcy: “I will not desert you” (152), there will be “other bells for us to ring” as adults. In the end, Kathleen’s love is shown to transcend even death. Despite negative reviews posted on amazon.com, Darcy’s Christmas miracle restores a warm glow of hope and faith and love to an otherwise troubled young girl, hope that flows into the reader, subtly echoing the faith that is the foundation of the Holy season Cormier chose for his novel.