Friday, March 16, 2012

Reading: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Here is an interesting fact – I'd never heard of this book until last Christmas when I read Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Just like with Peter Pan, the main character Charlie was assigned to read A Separate Peace and it seemed interesting so I added it to my list of books to read.  It is a book that most people read in high school.  My best friend read it and claims she loved it.  I bought the book at a used book store in January and expected it to be about two best friends at a boarding school during the war and their adventures together.  That is very broad statement.  What I truly expected it to be was two boys become friends at a boarding school during world war II and possibly one goes to war or a father goes to war and one friend is different from everyone else and changes the other friends life for the better.  A Separate Peace was not this.  In fact, the plot was so different from my expectations that I began to confuse myself.  I sometimes find it difficult to keep my own expectations and experiences separate from the story I am reading. 
            The book starts out with the two main characters, Gene and Finny, who are best friends at an all boys boarding school.  Gene is the boy who obediently studies while Finny is the boy who tells the jokes and loves sports.  The two of them, along with a few of their other friends, sit by a tree during a summer session at Devon (the boarding school) and Finny climbs the tree and jumps into the river next to it.  The jump is difficult because if the boys don't jump far enough they will land in the shallow water.  Luckily for Finny, he survived the jump and pushes Gene to do it too.  Gene obeys reluctantly while the other boys refuse.  As the story continues, Gene begins to envy Finny.  Finny's charisma lets him get away with anything and his athletic ability is outstanding (he breaks the school swimming record on his first try!).  In turn, he begins to convince himself that Finny is jealous of his intellect and a hatred grows inside of him as he keeps his friendly composure.  He soon comes to realize that Finny was never trying to keep him from succeeding and the jealousy he once felt slips away.  The two boys head over to the tree for a swim and what seems like a simple event turns into a life changing experience for both of them. 
            A Separate Peace surprised me in every way possible.  It was nothing like what I expected and was nothing like any book I've read in the past.  The book didn't have a huge epic storyline to it.  Everything about it was simple.  The conflict was simple yet mind blowing.  It allows the reader connect with their inner childhood fears and battles.   The characters were all relatable and I know I was able to pick out friends from school who fit each character's personality.  Another thing I could relate to was Gene and Finny's friendship.  Who has ever had a best friend and not felt a bit jealous at times?  Gene was a deeply personal narrator and doesn't so much talk about what's on the surface but what is beneath the surface. 
            There were some down sides to the novel though.  I found the language to be a bit hard to comprehend at times.  I constantly had to reread sentences to catch the meaning.  I also thought the ending was very cliché and blah.  It all happened so fast and I was left thinking, that's it??  Overall, it was an original novel and very poignant so I'm going to give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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