A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I’ve heard A Separate Peace batted around many English education-oriented classes and in high school classrooms, but I’d never read it. I didn’t teach it to high school students, because my semester of student teaching focused on freshmen and sophomores (and To Kill a Mockingbird is always the favorite in that part of the curriculum), but I found a discounted copy at a book sale. And now, many years later, I got around to reading it.
Gene and Phineas are seeming opposites at a New England boys’ boarding school. Gene is smart, introverted, self-doubting, whereas Phineas is handsome, careless, athletic, and daring. Their friendship doubles as a secret rivalry, which unravels when a summer incident changes the way they see everything. Throughout the course of the book, Gene, the narrator, must grapple with World War II, masculinity, friendship, and one’s place within society.
This book ended up being a mixed bag for me. I suspect that male readers would like this a lot more than I did. This is, of course, not to say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate books by and about men (hello, my dissertation focused on that!), but that the psychology of this particular book just didn’t interest me in the way I think it was supposed to. Also, the pacing was terribly off. There would be a TON of psychological introspection, and then a lot of action got smooshed into a few short pages. It was disorienting, and I remember having to go back and revisit the previous paragraph to see if I’d missed anything (especially the end). I bet this is a mixed bag in high school, too. I can guess that some LOVE it and others HATE it.