Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace by John Knowles takes place during the second World War at Devon School, a boys' preparatory academy in New England. Here on the homefront, the war doesn't seem very real. Sure, there are rations, and the seniors are being scheduled for physical training regimens to prepare them for enlistment after graduation - but in the lazy, carefree Summer session, the idea of war seems very distant to the other students. Especially to Phineas.

Finny is athletic and charming - he can talk his way out of any potential trouble, even when he doesn't really make any sense. His friend and roommate (and our narrator), Gene, is booksmart and reserved - he tries to be a good student and to follow the rules, but Finny always seems to get his way. There is something about him that is impossible to resist. That's what started it - just a tiny spark of jealousy, of resentment - and an accident in a tree on the school grounds changes everything.

Or was it an accident?

Either way, things will never be the same again - for any of them.

A Separate Peace was required reading my sophomore year of high school, and I really enjoyed it. I feel myself drawn to Finny - his charisma, his optimism, his drive to make everything enjoyable and fun. One thing I love about this book is that there isn't really an antagonist character, at least not in my opinion. Gene tends to come off as selfish and petty, but people are who they are - we're not all bad, not all good, and we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. We all do things without thinking that we later come to regret, and I think many of us can remember feeling particularly lost during our teenage years. It's not always pretty, it's not always clean, and things don't always get resolved like you want them to. It is what it is. The characters and their actions in this book are very real in this sense.

Aside from this, I also enjoy the book because it's a very different sort of wartime novel - the war takes a backseat through most of the narrative. Of course, it's a constant presence - it's World War II, so how could it not be? But the fact that it isn't everything about the novel makes it feel more real to me as well. I'm sure that while supporting the War Effort was a big deal to Americans during this time, it still wasn't all they did or talked about or thought about, especially for the younger people - the more well-off younger people - who, like the characters in this book, go off to a boarding school in a small New England town, and despite the visiting recruiters and the senior drills, are still able to have something apart from the war.



Series Info:  What came before this book?  What's next?
* A Separate Peace (Book 1)
- Peace Breaks Out (Book 2)

Film Adaptations:
A Separate Peace (2004)

See what others are saying about it or buy it now:
Better World Books

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