Background: I read A Separate Peace by John Knowles during my sophomore year of high school (or was it freshman? one of those early years) and liked it. I figured I’d like it even more when I wasn’t being graded on how well I understood it. So I read it again.
Style: I love reading—obviously—but it’s not hard for me to get bored. I often get discouraged or annoyed when I’ll turn the page and see long paragraphs full of description and little dialogue. Knowles wrote his share of paragraphs without dialogue, but they were never boring. I think it helped that it was written in first person, with Gene narrating, so it felt like he was talking to me and telling me the story. A review from the San Francisco Chronicle said A Separate Peace is “beautifully written … great depth,” and I completely agree.
Plot: A Separate Peace is fairly fast-paced, so I was able to tear through it in less than a day. (It’s not long, though; my copy is 204 pages.) The event that the story centers around happens in the first 60 pages, but there’s enough packed into the remaining 140 pages that I never felt bored or restless. Despite their faults, I had a hard time not growing attached to Finny and Gene. Finny seems like someone I could simultaneously be best friends with and be insanely jealous of, so I sympathized with Gene as a result. (Although I don’t think I would’ve pushed Finny out of a tree.)
General thoughts: I read this book again because I could just read without being forced to understand, but I actually got it this time. I understood how Finny was creating this world, this “separate peace” for himself and for Gene during World War II, and I understood why Finny kept denying that the war even existed after he hurt his leg. It all clicked.
My final verdict: