A Separate Peace by John Knowles

aseparatepeace_johnknowlesHave you ever been jealous of your best friend? Wished you could be better than him/her?

Though I say this with regret, I have experienced such jealousy. And so has Gene Forrester. His best friend, Phineas, had everything. He was the best athlete at school, and he appeared perfect in every way. All Gene seemed to have going for him was his smarts. During the summer school session Phineas started a new club with new activities he became involved with. Phineas’ life seemed carefree while Gene struggled to study and became distracted. He believed that Phineas was intentionally leading him astray to appear better than Gene.

The boys had a fascination with climbing a certain tree and jumping into the river. One day, when climbing the tree, Gene shook the branch, causing Phineas to lose his balance and fall, shattering the bones in his leg, which forced Phineas to give up sports. Gene visited Phineas on one occasion to try to explain and apologize, but he never exactly got to the point.

When Phineas became strong enough to return to school, he decided to be Gene’s trainer. Phineas even came up with an idea that World War II was just made up by the politicians. Gene, though a part of him knew that this philosophy is not true, accepted this. The two of them were able to live together, in a sort of peace separated from the troubles of the world.

But this peace eventually shattered, as the life in front of Gene became more complicated and full of burdens. The carefree days of the summer session disappeared, and Gene was forced to wake up to the life of an adult, fraught with responsibilities and loss.

As a book required for English, I found the storyline lacking. Perhaps because the narrator was reflecting on childhood and presenting the coming-of-age themes through the lens of a much older person, I struggled a bit with connecting to the lessons. This may be a book that offers more meaning once you have more life experiences. However, from a simpler standpoint, I recognized the dangers of being too jealous.

– Leila S., 10th grade

A Separate Peace is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library

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