YA book reviews, reading and recommending since 2009

Archive for March 9, 2010

Beth Fantaskey on a YA book that left her a lasting impression

Happy Tuesday everyone. Today we have Beth Fantaskey, author of Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side and the upcoming Jekel Loves Hyde! She will be talking about the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It is about two friends at boarding school during World War II. I have never read it or even *gasp* heard of it, but now I am tempted to pick it up the next time I go to the bookstore!


I don’t remember how old I was when I first read John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace.” I might’ve been ten – or I might’ve been as old as fifteen. I do remember that it was summer, and I fell completely under the spell of this amazing, unique novel – a spell so strong that just thinking about the book is still enough to make me feel the vivid, wonderful mix of emotions that it evoked in me back then.

For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s set during World War II and involves two prep school boys, one of whom is intelligent but not physically gifted (Gene), and the charismatic, natural athlete (Phineas) who becomes Gene’s best friend. The plot revolves around Gene’s conflicted love for and jealousy of Phineas, which has an unhappy end for both of them.

The magical spell was related, in part, to the book’s setting. I lived at home with my parents, and had lots of rules (of course), while Gene and Phineas already seemed to live like adults. Sure, they had teachers to deal with, but it seemed as though most of their time was spent independently. Each time I picked up the book, I felt like I was getting a chance to live that way, too.

I was also captivated by Phineas. He was my first literary “crush” – and, not to spoil the ending… cause of a pretty broken heart.

Last but not least, I loved that Knowles treated Gene and Finny like adults, in terms of their emotions. The two boys felt things deeply. They worried about the war, they worried about each other, and Gene, in particular, suffered profoundly for a single misjudgment that would change his life.

I think there’s a temptation for adults to believe that young people don’t feel emotions as strongly as older people. But I believe Knowles got it right. I think young people sometimes live life at a stronger emotional pitch than adults. And the fact that, about 30 years after I read that book, I can still recall how I felt that summer would seem to support that opinion, because I can’t think of a novel that I’ve really wept over since.


Four days left till the BIG contest! Come back tomorrow for Malinda Lo’s interview and Luisa Plaja’s guest blog the day after.

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