Read This: A Separate Peace

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

There are quite a few classics which I a.) own and b.) have always meant to read but somehow c.) haven't gotten around to. I mentioned quite a few in my summer reading list (made entirely of books I already have), and I'm happy to report I just finished one. Checking off one of these books always feels gratifying, and, as is the case with most classics, my only wish is that I read it sooner:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Most people I've chatted with read A Separate Peace in high school, but somehow my school skipped right over it. It's the story of two boys at a New Hampshire boarding school called Devon. Devon is fictitious but is based on the author's high school alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy.

(Many boys at Bucknell went to similar schools; I frequently parked beside a car at Bucknell with a "Phillips Exeter" bumper sticker, which further made me want to read this book!)

Though Knowles accurately paints the place of the story, the time seems to be an even more powerful force of the setting: during World War II.

The two Devon boys, introverted, academically-driven Gene and sporty, extroverted Phineas (or Finny), are attending school at an intriguing time in history—when the march to high school graduation is nearly synonymous with the march to the battlegrounds.

The progressing war courses throughout the background of the story—but the tumultuous relationship between Gene and Phineas takes the forefront. They are best friends and roommates with polar opposite personalities, but still, each seems to see the other as an extension of himself.

At the beginning of the book, it seems that Gene (the narrator), rather envies Phineas and looks up to him in kind of a hero-worshipping way, he says:

"He could also shine at many other things, with people for instance, the others in our dormitory, the faculty; in fact, if you stopped to think about it, Finny could shine with everyone, he attracted everyone he met. I was glad of that too. Naturally. He was my roommate and my best friend." 

However, when a terrible accident occurs and both Phineas and Gene are involved, it prompts Gene to deeply and darkly explore their friendship, and learn about himself.

I really enjoyed reading a book that focused on a complex, but deep, platonic friendship. So many books are saturated with romantic love, but friendship can be just as big of a force in someone's life, especially someone in high school.

As a warning, I wouldn't call this an uplifting book by any means, but, for me, it was thought-provoking, beautifully written (I loved his metaphors and how they often related to nature), and definitely worth reading.

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