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.
A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles’s crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.
|Publisher:||Recorded Books, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
John Knowles, who died in 2001, was a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale University, as well as a recipient of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Read an Excerpt
I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before. It seemed more sedate than I remembered it, more perpendicular and strait-laced, with narrower windows and shinier woodwork, as though a coat of varnish had been put over everything for better preservation. But, of course, fifteen years before there had been a war going on. Perhaps the school wasn't as well kept up in those days; perhaps varnish, along with everything else, had gone to war.
I didn't entirely like this glossy new surface, because it made the school look like a museum, and that's exactly what it was to me, and what I did not want it to be. In the deep, tacit way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought, I had always felt that the Devon School came into existence the day I entered it, was vibrantly real while I was a student there, and then blinked out like a candle the day I left.
Now here it was after all, preserved by some considerate hand with varnish and wax. Preserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn't even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.
Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a very important undertaking: I must have made my escape from it.
I felt fear's echo, and along with that I felt the unhinged, uncontrollable joy which had been its accompaniment and opposite face, joy which had broken out sometimes in those days like Northern Lights across black sky.
There were a couple of places now which I wanted to see. Both were fearful sites, and that was why I wanted to see them. So after lunch at the Devon Inn I walked back toward the school. It was a raw, nondescript time of year, toward the end of November, the kind of wet, self-pitying November day when every speck of dirt stands out clearly. Devon luckily had very little of such weather the icy clamp of winter, or the radiant New Hampshire summers, were more characteristic of it but this day it blew wet, moody gusts all around me.
I walked along Gilman Street, the best street in town. The houses were as handsome and as unusual as I remembered. Clever modernizations of old Colonial manses, extensions in Victorian wood, capacious Greek Revival temples lined the street, as impressive and just as forbidding as ever. I had rarely seen anyone go into one of them, or anyone playing on a lawn, or even an open window. Today with their failing ivy and stripped, moaning trees the houses looked both more elegant and more lifeless than ever.
Like all old, good schools, Devon did not stand isolated behind walls and gates but emerged naturally from the town which had produced it. So there was no sudden moment of encounter as I approached it; the houses along Gilman Street began to look more defensive, which meant that I was near the school, and then more exhausted, which meant that I was in it.
It was early afternoon and the grounds and buildings were deserted, since everyone was at sports. There was nothing to distract me as I made my way across a wide yard, called the Far Common, and up to a building as red brick and balanced as the other major buildings, but with a large cupola and a bell and a clock and Latin over the doorway the First Academy Building.
rdIn through swinging doors I reached a marble foyer, and stopped at the foot of a long white marble flight of stairs. Although they were old stairs, the worn moons in the middle of each step were not very deep. The marble must be unusually hard. That seemed very likely, only too likely, although with all my thought about these stairs this exceptional hardness had not occurred to me. It was surprising that I had overlooked that, that crucial fact.
There was nothing else to notice; they of course were the same stairs I had walked up and down at least once every day of my Devon life. They were the same as ever. And I? Well, I naturally felt older I began at that point the emotional examination to note how far my convalescence had gone I was taller, bigger generally in relation to these stairs. I had more money and success and "security" than in the days when specters seemed to go up and down them with me.
I turned away and went back outside. The Far Common was still empty, and I walked alone down the wide gravel paths among those most Republican, bankerish of trees, New England elms, toward the far side of the school.
Devon is sometimes considered the most beautiful school in New England, and even on this dismal afternoon its power was asserted. It is the beauty of small areas of order a large yard, a group of trees, three similar dormitories, a circle of old houses living together in contentious harmony. You felt that an argument might begin again any time; in fact it had: out of the Dean's Residence, a pure and authentic Colonial house, there now sprouted an ell with a big bare picture window. Some day the Dean would probably live entirely encased in a house of glass and be happy as a sandpiper. Everything at Devon slowly changed and slowly harmonized with what had gone before. So it was logical to hope that since the buildings and the Deans and the curriculum could achieve this, I could achieve, perhaps unknowingly already had achieved, this growth and harmony myself.
I would know more about that when I had seen the second place I had come to see. So I roamed on past the balanced red brick dormitories with webs of leafless ivy clinging to them, through a ramshackle salient of the town which invaded the school for a hundred yards, past the solid gymnasium, full of students at this hour but silent as a monument on the outside, past the Field House, called The Cage I remembered now what a mystery references to "The Cage" had been during my first weeks at Devon, I had thought it must be a place of severe punishment and I reached the huge open sweep of ground known as the Playing Fields.
Devon was both scholarly and very athletic, so the playing fields were vast and, except at such a time of year, constantly in use. Now they reached soggily and emptily away from me, forlorn tennis courts on the left, enormous football and soccer and lacrosse fields in the center, woods on the right, and at the far end a small river detectable from this distance by the few bare trees along its banks. It was such a gray and misty day that I could not see the other side of the river, where there was a small stadium.
I started the long trudge across the fields and had gone some distance before I paid any attention to the soft and muddy ground, which was dooming my city shoes. I didn't stop. Near the center of the fields there were thin lakes of muddy water which I had to make my way around, my unrecognizable shoes making obscene noises as I lifted them out of the mire. With nothing to block it the wind flung wet gusts at me; at any other time I would have felt like a fool slogging through mud and rain, only to look at a tree.
A little fog hung over the river so that as I neared it I felt myself becoming isolated from everything except the river and the few trees beside it. The wind was blowing more steadily here, and I was beginning to feel cold. I never wore a hat, and had forgotten gloves. There were several trees bleakly reaching into the fog. Any one of them might have been the one I was looking for. Unbelievable that there were other trees which looked like it here. It had loomed in my memory as a huge lone spike dominating the riverbank, forbidding as an artillery piece, high as the beanstalk. Yet here was a scattered grove of trees, none of them of any particular grandeur.
Moving through the soaked, coarse grass I began to examine each one closely, and finally identified the tree I was looking for by means of certain small scars rising along its trunk, and by a limb extending over the river, and another thinner limb growing near it. This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age. In this double demotion the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way.
The tree was not only stripped by the cold season, it seemed weary from age, enfeebled, dry. I was thankful, very thankful that I had seen it. So the more things remain the same, the more they change after all plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change. Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence.
Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched; anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain.
The tree was tremendous, an irate, steely black steeple beside the river. I was damned if I'd climb it. The hell with it. No one but Phineas could think up such a crazy idea.
He of course saw nothing the slightest bit intimidating about it. He wouldn't, or wouldn't admit it if he did. Not Phineas.
"What I like best about this tree," he said in that voice of his, the equivalent in sound of a hypnotist's eyes, "what I like is that it's such a cinch!" He opened his green eyes wider and gave us his maniac look, and only the smirk on his wide mouth with its droll, slightly protruding upper lip reassured us that he wasn't completely goofy.
"Is that what you like best?" I said sarcastically. I said a lot of things sarcastically that summer; that was my sarcastic summer, 1942.
"Aey-uh," he said. This weird New England affirmative maybe it is spelled "aie-huh" always made me laugh, as Finny knew, so I had to laugh, which made me feel less sarcastic and less scared.
There were three others with us Phineas in those days almost always moved in groups the size of a hockey team and they stood with me looking with masked apprehension from him to the tree. Its soaring black trunk was set with rough wooden pegs leading up to a substantial limb which extended farther toward the water. Standing on this limb, you could by a prodigious effort jump far enough out into the river for safety. So we had heard. At least the seventeen-year-old bunch could do it; but they had a crucial year's advantage over us. No Upper Middler, which was the name for our class in the Devon School, had ever tried. Naturally Finny was going to be the first to try, and just as naturally he was going to inveigle others, us, into trying it with him.
We were not even Upper Middler exactly. For this was the Summer Session, just established to keep up with the pace of the war. We were in shaky transit that summer from the groveling status of Lower Middlers to the near-respectability of Upper Middlers. The class above, seniors, draft-bait, practically soldiers, rushed ahead of us toward the war. They were caught up in accelerated courses and first-aid programs and a physical hardening regimen, which included jumping from this tree. We were still calmly, numbly reading Virgil and playing tag in the river farther downstream. Until Finny thought of the tree.
We stood looking up at it, four looks of consternation, one of excitement. "Do you want to go first?" Finny asked us, rhetorically. We just looked quietly back at him, and so he began taking off his clothes, stripping down to his underpants. For such an extraordinary athlete even as a Lower Middler Phineas had been the best athlete in the school he was not spectacularly built. He was my height five feet eight and a half inches (I had been claiming five feet nine inches before he became my roommate, but he had said in public with that simple, shocking self-acceptance of his, "No, you're the same height I am, five-eight and a half. We're on the short side"). He weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did, which flowed from his legs to torso around shoulders to arms and full strong neck in an uninterrupted, unemphatic unity of strength.
He began scrambling up the wooden pegs nailed to the side of the tree, his back muscles working like a panther's. The pegs didn't seem strong enough to hold his weight. At last he stepped onto the branch which reached a little farther toward the water. "Is this the one they jump from?" None of us knew. "If I do it, you're all going to do it, aren't you?" We didn't say anything very clearly. "Well," he cried out, "here's my contribution to the war effort!" and he sprang out, fell through the tops of some lower branches, and smashed into the water.
"Great!" he said, bobbing instantly to the surface again, his wet hair plastered in droll bangs on his forehead. "That's the most fun I've had this week. Who's next?"
I was. This tree flooded me with a sensation of alarm all the way to my tingling fingers. My head began to feel unnaturally light, and the vague rustling sounds from the nearby woods came to me as though muffled and filtered. I must have been entering a mild state of shock. Insulated by this, I took off my clothes and started to climb the pegs. I don't remember saying anything. The branch he had jumped from was slenderer than it looked from the ground and much higher. It was impossible to walk out on it far enough to be well over the river. I would have to spring far out or risk falling into the shallow water next to the bank. "Come on," drawled Finny from below, "stop standing there showing off." I recognized with automatic tenseness that the view was very impressive from here. "When they torpedo the troopship," he shouted, "you can't stand around admiring the view. Jump!"
What was I doing up here anyway? Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this? Was he getting some kind of hold over me?
With the sensation that I was throwing my life away, I jumped into space. Some tips of branches snapped past me and then I crashed into the water. My legs hit the soft mud of the bottom, and immediately I was on the surface being congratulated. I felt fine.
"I think that was better than Finny's," said Elwin better known as Leper Lepellier, who was bidding for an ally in the dispute he foresaw.
"All right, pal," Finny spoke in his cordial, penetrating voice, that reverberant instrument in his chest, "don't start awarding prizes until you've passed the course. The tree is waiting."
Leper closed his mouth as though forever. He didn't argue or refuse. He didn't back away. He became inanimate. But the other two, Chet Douglass and Bobby Zane, were vocal enough, complaining shrilly about school regulations, the danger of stomach cramps, physical disabilities they had never mentioned before.
"It's you, pal," Finny said to me at last, "just you and me." He and I started back across the fields, preceding the others like two seigneurs.
We were the best of friends at that moment.
"You were very good," said Finny good-humoredly, "once I shamed you into it."
"You didn't shame anybody into anything."
"Oh yes I did. I'm good for you that way. You have a tendency to back away from things otherwise."
"I never backed away from anything in my life!" I cried, my indignation at this charge naturally stronger because it was so true. "You're goofy!"
Phineas just walked serenely on, or rather flowed on, rolling forward in his white sneakers with such unthinking unity of movement that "walk" didn't describe it.
I went along beside him across the enormous playing fields toward the gym. Underfoot the healthy green turf was brushed with dew, and ahead of us we could see a faint green haze hanging above the grass, shot through with the twilight sun. Phineas stopped talking for once, so that now I could hear cricket noises and bird cries of dusk, a gymnasium truck gunning along an empty athletic road a quarter of a mile away, a burst of faint, isolated laughter carried to us from the back door of the gym, and then over all, cool and matriarchal, the six o'clock bell from the Academy Building cupola, the calmest, most carrying bell toll in the world, civilized, calm, invincible, and final.
The toll sailed over the expansive tops of all the elms, the great slanting roofs and formidable chimneys of the dormitories, the narrow and brittle old housetops, across the open New Hampshire sky to us coming back from the river. "We'd better hurry or we'll be late for dinner," I said, breaking into what Finny called my "West Point stride." Phineas didn't really dislike West Point in particular or authority in general, but just considered authority the necessary evil against which happiness was achieved by reaction, the backboard which returned all the insults he threw at it. My "West Point stride" was intolerable; his right foot flashed into the middle of my fast walk and I went pitching forward into the grass. "Get those hundred and fifty pounds off me!" I shouted, because he was sitting on my back. Finny got up, patted my head genially, and moved on across the field, not deigning to glance around for my counterattack, but relying on his extrasensory ears, his ability to feel in the air someone coming on him from behind. As I sprang at him he side-stepped easily, but I just managed to kick him as I shot past. He caught my leg and there was a brief wrestling match on the turf which he won. "Better hurry," he said, "or they'll put you in the guardhouse." We were walking again, faster; Bobby and Leper and Chet were urging us from ahead for God's sake to hurry up, and then Finny trapped me again in his strongest trap, that is, I suddenly became his collaborator. As we walked rapidly along I abruptly resented the bell and my West Point stride and hurrying and conforming. Finny was right. And there was only one way to show him this. I threw my hip against his, catching him by surprise, and he was instantly down, definitely pleased. This was why he liked me so much. When I jumped on top of him, my knees on his chest, he couldn't ask for anything better. We struggled in some equality for a while, and then when we were sure we were too late for dinner, we broke off.
He and I passed the gym and came on toward the first group of dormitories, which were dark and silent. There were only two hundred of us at Devon in the summer, not enough to fill most of the school. We passed the sprawling Headmaster's house empty, he was doing something for the government in Washington; past the chapel empty again, used only for a short time in the mornings; past the First Academy Building, where there were some dim lights shining from a few of its many windows, Masters at work in their classrooms there; down a short slope into the broad and well clipped Common, on which light fell from the big surrounding Georgian buildings. A dozen boys were loafing there on the grass after dinner, and a kitchen rattle from the wing of one of the buildings accompanied their talk. The sky was darkening steadily, which brought up the lights in the dormitories and the old houses; a loud phonograph a long way off played Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, rejected that and played They're Either Too Young or Too Old, grew more ambitious with The Warsaw Concerto, mellower with The Nutcracker Suite, and then stopped.
Finny and I went to our room. Under the yellow study lights we read our Hardy assignments; I was halfway through Tess of the d'Urbervilles, he carried on his baffled struggle with Far from the Madding Crowd, amused that there should be people named Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene. Our illegal radio, turned too low to be intelligible, was broadcasting the news. Outside there was a rustling early summer movement of the wind; the seniors, allowed out later than we were, came fairly quietly back as the bell sounded ten stately times. Boys ambled past our door toward the bathroom, and there was a period of steadily pouring shower water. Then lights began to snap out all over the school. We undressed, and I put on some pajamas, but Phineas, who had heard they were unmilitary, didn't; there was the silence in which it was understood we were saying some prayers, and then that summer school day came to an end.
Copyright © 1959 by John Knowles, Inc.
Copyright renewed © 1987 by John Knowles, Inc.
What People are Saying About This
Aubrey Menen I think it is the best-written, best-designed, and most moving novel I have read in many years. Beginning with a tiny incident among ordinary boys, it ends by being as deep and as big as evil itself.
National Review A masterpiece.
The Observer A model of restraint, deeply felt and beautifully written.
Warren Miller Mr. Knowles has something to say about youth and war that few contemporary novelists have attempted to say and none has said better.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for A Separate Peace includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace follows the friendship of the serious, intellectual Gene and the athletic, charismatic Phineas and the tragic turn their relationship takes when a moment’s impulse has terrible consequences. A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence; it is an American classic, published more than fifty years ago and a bestseller for decades, striking in its depiction of coming-of-age and the struggle to understand human nature.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Gene says, “I was subject to the dictates of my mind, which gave me the maneuverability of a strait jacket” (page 34). Where do Gene’s rules for himself come from? Why are they so strict?
2. Why does Phineas choose the pink shirt for a school flag, his emblem? And why does Gene so envy his ability to “get away” with this (page 25)?
3. Gene thinks Finny’s secret swim record is “too unusual for—not friendship, but too unusual for rivalry” (page 45). Why does this shock Gene? Why is rivalry so essential at Devon? What does it say about the dynamics of Gene and Finny’s friendship?
4. How do the school’s rivers, the Devon and the Naguamsett, represent innocence and experience in the boys’ lives?
5. How is it that Gene “becomes” Finny alone in their room after Finny’s fall (page 62) and the next day he’s “pretty sure I didn’t know Finny at all” (page 63)? What is the truth?
6. When Gene tells Finny he won’t start living by the rules, why is that “the most false thing, the biggest lie of all” (page 71)?
7. Why can’t Finny let Gene tell him what actually happened in the tree? Why does Finny call Gene to apologize for even suspecting him for a “second” (page 83)?
8. Finny says the winter loves him, while Gene calls the winter “treacherous” for Finny and his crutches. Finny further explains that “when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love” (page 111). Why does Gene assert this is false, but should be true?
9. Though Leper does not play a large role in life at Devon, Gene has a lot of sympathy for him. Why is this? Why are the boys so affected by Leper’s joining the war? And were you surprised that Leper witnessed Finny’s fall?
10. Why does Brinker force Gene and Finny into the trial (page 165)? How do Brinker’s changing views of the war influence his behavior at Devon and with Gene?
11. What does Gene mean when he says “wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart” (page 201)? Do you believe he has “made [his] escape” from fear (page 10) by the time he revisits Devon as an adult?
12. Do you agree with David Levithan in the afterword that “human nature doesn’t change very much over time” (page 205)? How does A Separate Peace illustrate this?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In 1972, A Separate Peace was adapted for film. Watch the movie and discuss the director’s interpretation of the novel.
2. Choose another coming-of-age classic to read, such as Lord of the Flies or Catcher in the Rye. Discuss the books’ depictions of adolescence and rivalry or the differences and similarities in their main characters in comparison to A Separate Peace.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When i first came upon this book was in my AP English class in the 10th grade, with the limited list of books and the library out of the easy read books, I found A Separate Peace. As i showed and told everyone what i was reading they gave me mix reviews, Some said it was too much of a guy book and was deemed boring and not worth the time to read. As i read on, i was captivated by the main character, and his struggle of guilt and jealousy of someone whom he called a best friend. I was angry and yet i found myself relating to the character of Gene. I mean if you had a friend who had qualities that you wished you could possessed, wouldn't you be jealous of that friend? You couldn't stay mad at Gene but you couldn't help but not love Phineas. They were two friends of the opposite side of the spectrum, yet they found a way to be friends. Phineas must have known the jealousy that possessed Gene, and the fault of the accident, yet Phineas, as marvelous as he was, forgave Gene. But it was not just about friendship going through it's rough and uneasy edges but it was about manhood, these boys going to school and figuring what type of men they will become while a war hung over their heads. These boys had their adventures in school, and when it comes to male friendship, its about who you're having the fun with and the strong bond that is created through fears, and understanding of the world. These boys were all shaped and touched by the essence that was Finny, he was their leader so to speak, and he was the one that they looked to for advice and reaction to the everyday commands of life and school.
John Knowles did an excellent job on A Separate Peace. The way Gene will do anything to be like his friend is very disturbing, and yet it relates to a lot of people...maybe not to the point of death, but a lot of readers can relate to competition among friends. This novela has many important themes to it. It shows that the victims of 'battle' are not always on the front line, and are unseen. I can not think of one bad thing to say about this novel. Instead of making poor reviews, maybe people should actually take the time to analyze and try to understand the book.
Ok...so I had to read this book in high school, like a lot of people did too, most likely. And I hated it. Really. I didn't really even bother to read past the first few chapters. But then we watched the movie in class, and I was suprised! It was good! Really good!!! So that summer, I went back and reread the book...It was AWESOME!!! It really get's at the complexities of growing up and friendship. It has become my favorite book of all time. I try and read it at least once a year! It has some really great messages within it's pages if you are willing to give it a chance.
Another summer another assignment but this book was one I did enjoy to read. It is one of those that you can just flow through and you can just enjoy reading (as long as you don't have an assignment). So without that assignment you will enjoy reading this book and you should like to read it and enjoy each of the very well put together characters. So enojoy.
A Seprate peace is an icredbily book you will not be able to but down until you read the very last word.This book is an amazeing jouney beetwen two best freind that are always together. This is my favriot book of all time.I am not some one that loves to read but this just made me one.
Read this book for book club, and it provided fodder for a very lively discussion. Someone even brought Cliff's Notes, which added even more discussion topics! Beautifully written book, characters are well fleshed out and distinctive, the narrative moves right along. The book hinges on an accident that changes the lives of all involved forever, but figuring out what exactly happened during this pivotal event left all of us puzzled. (That's where Cliff's Notes came in handy!) Meaty, but enjoyable.
If my summer reading list didn't require me to do so, I would have never thought to look past the cover of this book. I enjoyed following the characters through their difficulties. The characters in this book have distinct personalities, sometimes with mysterious auras surrounding them. A great wartime novel that not only focuses on the war, but the kids growing up in that time period.
Wow! When my English teacher told me we had to read this book for school I was like great, another boring book but I was so surprised to find that with every page I began to love this book more and more. The words just drew me in and I found myself feeling the emotions of those in the book. I was brought to tears at the end but, this is a great book. Truly a classic and I would recommend it for anyone.
I have always loved to read books; ever since I was old enough to sit on my dad's lap and listen to him talk, as I recall. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, has particularly struck me as great book because it teaches a great life lesson. I can relate myself to both Phineas and Gene personally. I am happy, thoughtful, and intelligent, like Gene, yet goofy, a dare-devil, and a good athlete like Phineas. A Separate Peace is a very good book in my opinion. John Knowles wrote this book to teach the lesson: "you don't know what you have until it's gone." He uses suspense while he foreshadows over many various places in the book to set the tone. A Separate Peace by John Knowles shows great examples of how dramatic it is to be an adolescent. This book is written in first person. Throughout this novel the protagonist, Gene's, feelings of admiration and abhorrence towards his roommate and best friend at the Devon boarding school, Phineas, grows to the point where Gene is too confused to focus on reality. I would recommend this book for those who love suspense.A Separate Peace takes you to a boarding school at Devon, New Hampshire during the summer of 1942. Gene, the main character and the narrator, is smart, cunning and mildly physically active, but not as active as Phineas. Phineas could easily be the best athlete at Devon. One of Phineas's nicknames was Finny. Together they start a Secret Society for those brave enough to jump out of a limb of a tree over a river.
In seventh grade, my mom suggested to me that I read this book as my 'first classic novel'. I didn't think much of it at first, but I must say that I was shocked at how beautiful it was. I hadn't expected a classic set during World War II to be one of my all-time favorite books, but the insight and conversation in this story is like no other. Once I got over the initial boredom at the first chapter, emotion swept through my veins, tied me down and yet released me from my burdens at the same time. This is a must-read for any middle- or high-schooler seeking acceptance or struggling with emotions and pain... a real heart-opener, whatever that may be! :)
A Separate Peace by John Knowles The book is set in New Hampshire at The Devon Boarding School. The book is narrated from Gene's Forrester's first person point of view. It opens in 1959 as Gene comes to visit Devon School and reminisces at the tree where he and Phineas started The Suicide Society of The Summer Session. The story immediately flashbacks to the summer of 1942. Phineas (Finny) and Gene are roommates and best friends. Finny is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Because opposites attract they form a very strong bond. Finny comes up with the idea of jumping from a huge tree in the school property into the river. Even though they were surrounded by classmates, only Finny and Gene jump, thus sealing their friendship with The Suicide Society of The Summer Session. As they return to their senior year, Genes resents Finny's adventures and sees them as a threat to his academic excellence. When Elwin (Leper) Lepellier decides to join their club, Gene was studying for a test. Forced to go and jump with their new member, Gene decides to make Finny fall off the tree by jouncing the limb Finny was using to jump. Finny falls and breaks up his leg; all of his athletic abilities are curtailed. Gene tries to confess to Finny, but it is to no avail. Finny is in denial and more determined to be Gene's closest friend. Finny trains Gene to be an athlete in the fictitious 1944 Olympics and Gene helps Finny with his studies. But Leper had witnesses Gene's act of treason toward Finny and he decides to join the army. Unfortunately, Leper can't take it and cracks up. He's discharged under the Section Eight army rules. When Leper returns to Devon, his classmates decide to hold at trial against Gene. This time Finny is really hurt. As he runs out of the assembly, he breaks his leg again. When the school doctor tries to set the leg, Finny just dies. Written in 1959, this books is not only a war novel, but also a classic coming of age piece. Using the metaphor of the friendship between two boys, we see how war can damage human beings. Just like training camp ruined Leper, envy and rancor ruins the friendship between Gene and Phineas. "...whenever you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love." (Gene p. 111) "An operating room is a place where the risks are just more formal than in other places. An operating room and a war." (Dr. Stanpole p. 193) "Why did it have to happen to you boys so soon, here at Devon?" (Dr. Stanpole p. 194) Gene does enlists in the Navy, but: "I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before i was ever put on an uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there." (p. 204) "Your war memories will be with you forever, you'll be asked about them a thousand times after the war is over." (Mr. Healy p. 199) Nicely said!
Awesome! Must read.
A Seperate Peace has to be one of the best books I have ever read. It made me think a lot about how teenagers act today compared to how Finny and Gene and the rest of the boys would act back during WWII. The story is so touching and it reminds me of my friendships with many of my friends and I feel like I can somehow relate to Gene. Overall, I can tell you that you won't be able to put this book down.
I am a Graduate student and picked this up several weeks ago while looking for a light story to read this summer. I am pleasantly surprised at how much I truly enjoyed this book. While it may not appeal to everyone, the characters and setting truly added depth to this turning of age piece. Although there has been some discussion on the subtle gay overtones, the bond of friendship with the two main characters is what is truly meaningful and can be found in many male/male relationships whether gay or straight. Don¿t let this dissuade anyone from reading the book. It is a great piece of literature.
I had to read the book A Separate Peace for high school summer reading.To be honest I did'nt enjoy it at all.There was nothing to it and it moved so slow.It is basically about two boys and thier summer at the Devon School during the Summer Session.Some people say to give it time but no matter what this book is off my bookshelf for good!
Before reading this in English, I first thought it was just another of those books that we had to read and had a 'lets just get it over with' outlook towards it. Instead, it was an insightful and well written story full of imagery and description. A main theme of this story is hiding from the truth, and what happens when false realities fall apart, and also Gene coming to terms with his best friend's death. 'Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence. Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain'
I was forced to read A Seperate Peace last year in school, and I was apprehensive to allow myself to enjoy this intriguing novel because I've had a long history with boring, required school reading. I was surprised by how realistic the boys' emotions were and I could relate to Gene like I have with no other character before. This is one of my favorite books of all time.
I had to read this novel for English, and I really enjoyed it. I think every person can find themselves somewhere in the novel. The characters are complex and intriguing. The only thing I did not like about the book was that it contains a lot of cussing.
Borderline garbage. I know it is a supposed classic, but in my opinion, it was not a good read. Maybe I shall return to it when I am more grown and have a different opinion...but I highly doubt that.
This is a summer reading book for my local high school almost every year so I figured I'd check it out. It was a pretty good story about two boys in an all boy boarding school who are room mates and friends and always in competition with each other, it's a very competitive school. It's also war time and these boys are a year away from graduating from school and most probably going away to fight in the war. This story documents this time and all of the trials that these boys go through in a tough time trying to grow up a little to quickly, fearing the future and still trying to be the best!
I will probably read it again, after a period of time has elapsed. I am very fortunate to have stumbled onto this wonderful read.
A coming of age story from the male perspective isn't the type of book that would usually appeal to me. I did enjoy it however because of the interplay between the over-achiever and his angst filled friend. I especially enjoyed the historical perspective of that time and how it might have been to be a young man facing the prospects of being called upon to serve one's country at wartime.
This is a perfectly solid novel. The style is often lyrical, eloquent, is perceptive about the the workings of envy and insecurities of the teen years. I appreciated the emotional restraint that keeps the elegiacal tone from seeping too much into sentimentality. So I'm not sure what leaves me so unmoved by it, feeling this is a good, but not particularly profound novel that makes me wonder why it's earned such classic status. (Other than it's the perfect high school book with adolescent subjects--and relatively short.) It's told by Gene Forrester, looking back on events of around fifteen years ago at Devon, a New England Prep school. In the summer of 1942, a "brief burst of animosity, lasting only a second, a part of a second" on his part leads to tragedy. Knowles tries to connect up this brief moment to the war raging on outside the confines of the school. Knowles tells us "wars were made... by something ignorant in the human heart." Maybe it's that I resist that sentiment, particularly coming from Gene, that the story and its antiwar sentiments seems too predictable to me. Or maybe that I just feel Gene gets off too easy--both in terms of his friend Phineas' forgiveness and his own self-forgiveness which turns his impulsive act into a portal to epiphany.
I predict this novel will not resonate for future generations of youth, for its subtlety distills into boredom. There are better coming-of-age young adult novels that similarly explore the mystical boundaries of friendship, envy, betrayal, and ultimately, guilt. The basic premise of the story is that a jealous buddy perhaps is responsible for another's treefall. How lame (pun intended). We've got kids today setting each other up for certain failure in real-life scenarios involving warfare, drug deals, gang warfare, rape and unwanted pregnancies...this milkwarm preppie treatment is not the timeless classic I hoped it would be.