The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #5 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.
Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Copyright Date: 1959
“My brief burst of animosity, lasting only a second, a part of a second, something which came before I could recognize it and was gone before I knew it had possessed me, what was that in the midst of this holocaust?” (Knowles 188)
Living in America during World War II was particularly trying for seventeen year-old boys. On the edge of the draft yet still covered in innocence boys are being thrust from their studies to a front a world away. As a senior at The Devon School, a prep school in New England, Gene watches as the war begins to affect those closest to him.
Gene is a quiet and introverted boy. He befriends Phineas, an athletic and popular pupil while at school. While he cares deeply for his new friend, Gene finds himself tangled in envy and anger which cause him to act irrationally one day as the two boys are diving in a creek near campus. In that moment Gene learns the weight of his decisions and the dangers of allowing his emotions to control him.
As much as Gene fought to stay out of the war he finds that the war is brought to him. Unable to escape war’s grasp Gene learns to cope with consequences. Through the process of learning about decisions and their outcomes Gene bridges into adulthood.
This book was banned and challenged on multiple counts in the 80s and early 90s for its “unsuitable language.” However, when one examines the subject matter (seventeen year-old boys) it should come to no surprise that the occasional curse word appears within the pages of this book. Nothing over-the-top or flagrant stood out to me as I read this book, granted, when this book was written it was a different world. Artists were censored much more than they are today. But even through that scope and lens I found it very difficult to pinpoint any offensive language or scenes from this novel.
Many people also cite the negative picture painted about America’s involvement in World War II as grounds for banning this book. Again, I think the author was fairly realistic in his portrayal of the natural emotions that many men encounter when they come face-to-face war; much of which involves fear.
Overall I liked this book. I’m a bit of a history buff, and so I can understand that those who are not as interested in war and politics may find certain parts of this book to be boring. However, there are large portions of this text that do not relate to the war facing Gene and his friends, but rather focus on the realities of coming of age-a major theme of the novel.
Occasionally Knowles throws in a bit of illustrious language (which many readers either love or hate) like the following sentence:
“It proceeded along the lower end of the playing field, and under the pale night glow the playing fields swept away from me in slight frosty undulations which bespoke meanings upon meanings, levels of reality I had never suspected before, a kind of thronging and epic grandeur which my superficial eyes and cluttered mind had been blind to before.” (Knowles 186)
Whew…what a sentence!
So my advice: tread with caution! If you enjoy a good historical read and don’t mind a bit of heavy description then you will love this book. I found myself loving it at times and then there were days (which bled into weeks) where I just had to walk away from this book because the plot had slowed down so much. It’s been a long time coming (I think I started reading this book mid-March), but I have finally finished this literary classic and I am glad to have had the pleasure to read about the journey of Gene, Phineas, Leper, and Brinker as they encountered World War II from the home front.
The Ameri Brit Mom