“We reminded them of what peace was like, of lives which were not bound up with destruction.”
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Published 1959 by Secker & Warburg
Format: paperback; 204 pages
Also By This Author: Peace Breaks Out, Phineas
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My Rating: 4/5
Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.
I first read A Separate Peace nearly 14 years ago while I was in 7th grade. I’ve always felt like my assigned reading choices in school were generally interesting books that made a long-lasting impact on me; A Separate Peace is no exception. Do you ever reread books you haven’t read in ages and find yourself thinking, “I do not remember imagining it this way”? For me it was more about remembering the characters differently.
Gene and Phineas are two 16-year-old boys living at an all-boys prep school, where most of the students and staff are affected by the outbreak of WWII. Gene and Phineas, along with a few other students, create the “Super Suicide Society,” where the whole goal is to do daring and rule-breaking stunts. This club, and the leadership of Phineas, reflect the escape the boys try to make from the reality of war. The irony, however, is that the boys have brought the war into their club.
Before I reread this book, I had the mindset that Phineas was that one friend we all have who always tries to “one up” us in everything. You know who I’m talking about–you do well on a test, they do better; you feel like you’re really good in a sport or hobby, they show you how much more talented they are (and make it look effortless); you receive an awesome present from someone, they tell you that they got one once and it just wasn’t that great. Well, when I reread this novel, I realized that Phineas is not that “one-upper” friend at all. Which means that I obviously relate a lot to Gene, who creates this whole unspoken competition between himself and Phineas.
I think a lot of people can relate to the characters and circumstances in this novel, even though it takes place in the early 1940s. That’s why this book had so much impact on me when I was 12 and when I was 25; you can put those themes into any context and will still be able to empathize with the characters.
Read This Book If…:
…you enjoy short, powerful novels.
…you like reading historical, young adult books that deal with mature subject matter.
…you’re intrigued by themes of war, childhood innocence, jealousy, and forgiveness.
One of the things I love most about these short & powerful novels is that they always have so many good quotes to reflect on!
“Because it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”
8 thoughts on “A Separate Peace by John Knowles”
I’ve always wondered what this was about. It’s nice to know!
I see you’re reading “Paper Towns.” I’m eager to hear what you thought of it!
Yeah, the book itself is character-driven, so that’s why the synopsis is so vague. Things happen but it’s mainly the characters’ responses that matter.
I’m listening to Paper Towns on audiobook on my commute to and from work. I just finished Part 1 and I’m intrigued, but I don’t know what to think overall quite yet. It’s too early to tell :)
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I haven’t read this book since high school! I don’t remember it having the same impact on me that it did on you, but I’ve found rereading those assigned reading books as an adult has completely changed the way I see many of them. I’ll have to give this one another try!
Yes, agreed! I’m trying to reread some books I remember hating in high school, mainly Hemingway.
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I had never read (or even heard of) this book in school, but I finally did recently. I thought it was better than I expected (or maybe I just didn’t have any expectations one way or the other). Check out my review if you’re interested: https://leviathanbound.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/a-separate-peace/
I’m glad it succeeded your expectations :) Thanks for sharing your review!