Book Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Book Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Publisher: Scribner
Paperback: 204 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.

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.

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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for a while and have never gotten around to; school can only take on so many novels to teach students and this one slipped through the cracks for me. Unfortunately, I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I were younger, and I think I would have gotten a lot out of studying and analyzing it in a class, but even without that, I still thought it was a good read.

A Separate Peace is a coming of age story focusing on Gene and Phineas. The novel is told through Gene’s perspective, and his best friend is Phineas, an energetic daredevil who gets into a terrible accident. It is set during World War II, and the war is very much its own character; everything the boys do has something to do with the war. When they’re running or swimming, they’re thinking of how it’ll help them become better soldiers; they’re being rationed; their school is used as a training ground for soldiers. Everything about their lives is shadowed and affected by the war and how they’ll be registered for the draft in a year.

This book was excellent. It’s fairly slow going for the first half of it, lots of description and scene-setting, but I think that’s necessary to help set the atmosphere for everything that follows. It explores important topics, like what friendship means, how our actions have an effect on others, and the vagaries of guilt and forgiveness. The novel is a social-emotional journey for Gene, and therefore the reader, as he struggles to come of age in a dark, scary time in the world. I appreciated the story for its exploration of difficult topics against a difficult backdrop while still accurately portraying life at a high school surrounded by high school students. While I don’t think that it’s the most thrilling book, the conflicts are interesting and call on the reader to do reflection about their own relationships. I definitely see why it’s a classic; it’s important, and if you’re like me and haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I recommend that you do.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

    1. I’m disappointed I didn’t read it for school, because I might have gotten more out of analyzing it than just reading it for fun. Also, it’d definitely be more interesting than some of the other books I’ve been required to read! :p

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