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

Top 5 Coming-of-Age Novels

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photo by flickr user Justin Henry

Coming-of-age novels are written primarily for children ranging from middle school to college and they tell of those times. Coming-of-age novels have influenced and shaped my life more than any other novels and they are essential reading because they can do that! There is a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald which exemplifies the essence of coming of age novels:

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

I believe that this quote exemplifies themes present in coming of age novels because coming-of-age novels reassure the reader that they are not alone and that there are others who have been through what they have been through and they also open the reader’s eyes to new experiences and ultimately help prepare them for life.

Here are 5 of my favorite coming of age novels!

perks_cover1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
“Perks” was the novel that got me interested in other coming-of-age novels. The book was inspired by both The Catcher in The Rye and A Separate Peace. The story is told through letters between the main character Charlie and an anonymous correspondent. It tells of Charlie’s freshmen year of high school. Charlie is extremely anxious about high school because he has no friends, but he soon befriends Sam and Patrick who help him to have the full high school experience. Throughout the year, Charlie learns a lot about himself and reveals his darkest secret.

separate_peace_cover2. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A Separate Peace takes place during WWII in a boarding school and is about two friends Phineas (“Finny”) and Gene. Phineas and Gene are polar opposites but they become friends nonetheless. After an accident that takes place between them, Gene learns a lot about Finny and abut life but ends up losing himself.

catcher_in_the_rye_cover3. The Catcher in The Rye by, J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in The Rye revolves around the life of Holden Caulfield. Holden deals with feelings of alienation and angst throughout the entire novel. He thinks that everyone is a phony and cannot find anything worthwhile in the world. He denounces adulthood and longs to revert back to childhood where everything is pure.

kind_of_a_funny_story_cover4. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is centered around the life of Craig. Craig is overwhelmed with life and cannot bear it any longer so he checks himself into the hospital afraid that he might hurt himself. While in the hospital, Craig meets people who change him and after being discharged from the hospital he learned that he does want to live and that he wants to live life to its fullest.

fault_in_our_stars_cover5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
TFiOs is about Hazel and Augustus: two teens struggling with cancer who fall in love. The story progresses as their health declines. It depicts the trials and tribulations of their complicated relationship.

-Sarah B., 12th grade