Life: An Exploded Diagram
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Life: An Exploded Diagram

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,037 ratings  ·  270 reviews
Carnegie Medalist Mal Peet ignites an epic tale of young love against the dramatic backdrop of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. After all, the world teeters on the brink of war, and bombs could rai...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Candlewick Press (first published June 2nd 2011)
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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysDivergent by Veronica RothA Monster Calls by Patrick NessOkay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
Mock Printz 2012
23rd out of 51 books — 269 voters
A Monster Calls by Patrick NessAmelia Lost by Candace FlemingOkay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini TaylorChime by Franny Billingsley
Battle of the Kids' Books 2012
9th out of 22 books — 17 voters

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Community Reviews

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This book sounded fascinating and I thought the idea was interesting and innovative and something I have never read in a YA novel.
But then… eh.
I’ll start with the things I liked. As Clem told the story of his grandma, his mother and father and then himself, the narration was dripping with delightful colloquialisms, humorous anecdotes and was, all in all, quintessentially British. In these sections Clem was a great narrator, telling his story of growing up with hindsight and peppering it with nu...more
Before I begin I must first quote Clem and ask you to “bear with me while I describe it. Or try to describe it. My hobbling and pigeon-toed prose can’t do it justice, I know that.

Now, to the review:

Norfolk, 1962. It’s a hot summer during the Cold War.
Clem, a working-class boy from a council estate, and Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, are conducting a furtive and high-risk relationship.
Meanwhile, the world’s superpowers are moving towards nuclear confrontation.
With the Cuban Mi
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.

This one started off interestingly enough but rapidly disintegrated during the second half in a trajectory not unlike the nuclear fallout feared by the characters in this book. Good historical fiction focuses on the human condition (whether universally or within the context of the time discussed), using a particular time or event as a backdrop (See Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt). Bad historical fiction reads like a surreal text book, dry and i...more
Breaking my Book Review Silence to say that I love this book, and also that it has made me sob a lot during the last 20 pages, making a change from making me laugh a lot for the greater part of the book.

I love this book for many ridiculous and possibly wrong reasons, thusly:

Mal Peet and I share the distinction of having our books Life: An Exploded Diagram and Code Name Verity named as the two Boston Globe - Horn Book Award Honor Books in the fiction category this year (the overall award winner...more
The front flap says this is Mal Peet's most ambitious project yet, and it's true, this book is ambitious. It covers over 100 years of history, attempts to clarify one of the more confusing experiences of the Cold War, mixes in some misplaced religious ecstasy, shoots us forward to the defining moment of this century so far, all the while focused on two kids who just want to have sex.

If you can stick with it, it's worth it. I get that this is classified as a young adult novel, but it's one of the...more
i read this book because Elizabeth Wein told me to. she says in her blog that this book is much like Code Name Verity and if you have paid any attention at all to my reviews and updates in the last few months (no reason why you should have, but just in case), you know that Code Name Verity is my current and sole obsession.

this book was unengaging to me until about half way through. it's brilliantly written and fabulous in all sorts of ways (including its sense of place, so, if you are english an...more
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Tamar, I was eager to read Mal Peet's latest. The writing is just as crisp and sharp, a wonderful depiction of Clem's young life and his first love, and the wonder of discovering sexual attraction against a backdrop of wartime rural Norfolk and vividly drawn schooldays. There's a good measure of humour, and aching moments of sadness. Then the "exploded diagram" brings in the world situation with a look at JFK and other protagonists during the Cuban missile cris...more
- Several generations of loveless (or at least romance-less) marriages
- Star-crossed young lovers
- The Cuban Missile Crisis
- Our world on the brink of destruction
- A look at the role both politics and religion play in the end of the world
- Some pretty life-changing explosions

Oh, what to say about Life: An Exploded Diagram...
It has received all kinds of glowing reviews.
It bested Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls in the first round of the BOB.
Author Mal Peet excelled in revealing a very...more
Life: An Unexploded Diagram is not a book that is not necessarily easy to get in to. The beginning is gripping, the writing flawlessly beautiful and the story fascinating yet it takes time for the book to unfold as a complete work. The narrative structure can seem clunky at times and the plot takes a while to come together. However, Mal Peet has created one of those rare stories where, while enjoyable throughout, it is impossible to see the true genius of the work until you turn the last page –...more
Well, this one's going to be a bit tricky to write. and not because I hated, or I loved it. But possibly both. At the same time. All at once. Let me explain....

When I first read about this one, well, to say I was intrigued was an understatement. Code Name Verity had given me an appetite for some more exquisitely written twentieth century historical YA fiction and the political angle of this one got my attention, being in the possession of a politics degree myself (although I have never actually...more
There are good story tellers, there are eloquent writers and sometimes there are those few who have the talent to deliver both. Mal Peet has the ability to grasp the most complex concepts and distil them into a form that is immediately understood but not dismissed. Peet’s turn of phrase and descriptive narrative is to be savoured and the unfolding story he tells is thought provoking and full of so many unexpected twists and turns that the reader is constantly wondering what is going to be around...more
Courtney Johnston
Our small, intimate, precisely-known and closely-bounded lives play out against the massive sweep of history - that filtering of the everyday that pulls some events and personalities into a narrative that gets passed onwards.

Every so often, we feel our little lives play out against, intersect with, even shape, that narrative. We might be involved in the events; we may even be those personalities. Sometimes, we suddenly notice history happening: we can't rip our eyes away from the tv screen as a...more
Well. So that's how you want to write your book, eh? (shakes head). Ohhhhh-kay. 2.5 stars (Vague spoilers ahead.)

This is the story of a life (lived 1943-2001, plus some genealogical background) and it's an anti-war book. It follows on the one hand, Clem, and on the other hand, the Cuban Missile Crisis--in the main--and various other wars and their effects. And it cheaply ends on 9/11, which really, you probably shouldn't do.

I kept thinking, gee, these two story lines are going to intersect in so...more
Champaign Public Library
An outstanding coming-of-age/retrospective story set in post WWII England and framed by the Cold War, specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis. The novel spans over 60 years and shows the myriad implications of war, though the main plot takes place in the early 1960s. Clem, the artistic and intelligent son of working-class parents falls for Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Granted, this in itself is nothing that hasn’t been covered again and again, but this novel is so much more than s...more
Kirsty (overflowing library)
Life: An Exploded Diagram is a coming of age story set in rural North Norfolk during the Cold War. These two things alone made it a bit of a must read for me. Having never read an Mal Peet I wasn't sure what to expect but I can honestly say I really enjoyed it.

Life is one of those books you can devour in a matter of hours despite its size (at just about 400 pages long it is a bit of a monster). I was totally engrossed and found myself just wanting to read more and more to find out what happened...more
I absolutely loved this book and was sad to be finished with it last night. The writing is really amazing, and I found myself rereading sections just to appreciate the words and ideas over again.

Although I loved it completely, it may not be for everyone. I think the main problem younger readers might have with this is the British dialect. The story begins during WW2 in an English village, and when the characters converse, it's with a heavy local dialect. I could almost always discern what they w...more
Victoria Whipple
I decided to read this book after seeing it go several rounds in SLJ's Battle of the Kids Books. Judging from the other books in the running, I thought it would be more of a "kids" book, but this one is definitely YA...and I'd say older YA at that. Still, and excellent book, just out of my usual age range. The reader meets Clem Akroyd as a baby, as well as learning the circumstances of his conception, birth and family history. Clem was born towards the end of WWII, which has him coming of age in...more
Afton Nelson
It had the kind of writing I loved to savor. The story was deep and layered and quietly explosive. Coupling a love story with the Cuban Missile Crisis was the sort of ballsy genius few could pull off. bringing together these opposites, forbidden young love and a potential world annihilation, seems thoroughly random. But then Peet beautifully, simply and astonishingly draws the parallels that, once revealed, are so obvious, you wonder how you never made the connection before.

To be frank, this sto...more
I decided to read this book because my Mum had been bugging me to read it for about a million years. I was on holiday, I was bored and I desperately wanted something to read.
I had tried to open the book and begin to read a couple of times, but was always distracted or found I had something else to do. I thought for some strange reason this book would be boring (maybe it was the cover?) I was so, so wrong.
The category this book completes is "a book recommended by a member of your family." I am...more
I liked Tamar by the same author well enough, but Life: An Exploded Diagram read like a very bad The Book Thief. It's too bad, because the premise - young love during the Cuban Missile Crisis - is quite good. But I didn't care about any of the characters. They were oddly drawn and underdeveloped and did not inspire sympathy. The story was dull and cloudy and muted, like I was trying to read it underwater.

Plus, I am so tired of books (YA ones, especially) reaching outside of their purview to incl...more
LH Johnson
Life : an Exploded Diagram is transcendent. It is beyond. It is a book that should not be shelved under YA fiction, it is not a book that should be read solely by one demographic. In a very quiet way, this book is one of the best I've read this year.

But it's not easy. It is reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited and Flambards and When the Wind Blows, with a plot that sprawls cinematically through a good few years, countries and perspectives and because of that self-aware scope, it's not easy to ge...more
I liked this book a lot--definitely going to check out more of Peet's stuff, very well-written. It was interesting to have the back & forth between Clem & Frankie's story and JFK & the Cubans, especially as there was never any real interaction between the two. I loved watching the romance evolve and it felt v. true to that all-overwhelming "this is the only thing that matters" that happens in teenage relationships.

The things that make it a 4 instead of a 5 for me are 1)...more
People usually think of history as a stream, a confluence of actions that join and separate and tumble us to our conclusions, but a novel like this one confirms what I have always believed: history is more tectonic. The heat and pressure of a thousand lives before us and around us bend and mold and furrow us until we become something that we'd like to think we had a hand in, but is really the product of countless layers of sedimentary history. When the forces align just right, the plates explode...more
First of all, this book was published as a Young Adult novel, but it isn’t one. It’s like that famous quote from the Supreme Court justice about pornography- I may not be able to define YA literature perfectly but "I know it when I see it.”

Setting that aside, the book was good, but not great. Much of the prose is beautiful, and the novel explores teenage lust and sexual experimentation in a very realistic (and pretty steamy) way. On the other hand, the rather dry chapters on the Cuban Missile Cr...more
Tracy Saunders
Such an enjoyable read the characters were so well developed that you were not only living their childhood but reminiscing about your first love and those strange scary feeling. A great historical novel about living through war times through a child's eyes
Life: An Exploded Diagram, by Mal Peet, forcefully attacks the idea that love can last a lifetime. Though the story's main focus in on Clem and Frankie, two star-crossed lovers who's relationship is tested again and again as the Cold War looms behind them, the novel begins with Clem recounting the more platonic tale of his mother's and father's affair. Throughout the book the viewpoint frequently jumps from an up close investigation of Clem's life; to a larger view of Kennedy, Cuba, and the Rus...more
I didn't expect to like this book never mind give it five stars but the last part grabbed me and left me in a state of awe. The greatness of it crept up on me completely.

This review is a mess. All of my reviews are a mess. I don't know how to describe this book or my feelings for it. That's a mark of a good book, right?

I picked up this book in the library because the blurb looked sort of interesting: a boy and girl in a secret relationship in England during the Cold War. However, I spent the f...more
Moushumi Ghosh
At first when I started reading the book, I was wondering where it was going. Then the story picked up as soon as Clem, one of the protagonists, came into the picture. At a hundred pages longer than necessary, it is still a tour de force because when I finished reading it, my first reaction was to wonder what hit me. Very rarely does one get that feeling reading a book. It's a brilliant book. The running thread is of explosions - World War I, World War II, an impending World War III, 9/11, and c...more
Mark Gibby
This book was in the young people section in the library under historical fiction. What a travesty!!! This book is not appropriate for me--let alone for "young people." It is an exploration into sex! I put it down in disgust after a couple chapters. YUCK!!
Ehh, it was alright. Not quite as good as Tamar, because that was phenomenal, but it kept me entertained enough. What I did love about it was the tension between progress and tradition in the first half (the meandering hedgerows of Norfolk being condemned by Gerard). The beautiful slice-of-life cross-generational stories of Norfolk in the first half quite endeared me to the book.

But I'm afraid I agree with most people about the long, infodumpy historical passages. Now, these needed a context and...more
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Grace's Book Review 1 2 Jan 18, 2013 03:26PM  
Grace's Book Review 1 1 Jan 18, 2013 03:26PM  
Forever Young Adu...: October meeting date 15 23 Oct 15, 2012 12:46PM  
Mock Printz 2015: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet 1 21 Nov 17, 2011 01:36PM  
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Mal Peet grew up in North Norfolk, and studied English and American Studies at the University of Warwick. Later he moved to southwest England and worked at a variety of jobs before turning full-time to writing and illustrating in the early 1990s. With his wife, Elspeth Graham, he has written and illustrated many educational picture books for young children, and his cartoons have appeared in a numb...more
More about Mal Peet...
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“Sentimentality and nostalgia are closely related. Kissing cousins. I have no time for nostalgia, though. Nostalgics believe the past is nicer than the present. It isn't. Or wasn't. Nostalgics want to cuddle the past like a puppy. But the past has bloody teeth and bad breath. I look into its mouth like a sorrowing dentist.” 5 likes
“History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road. We're not especially interested in what it consists of. We wait, more or less patiently, for it to pause, so that we can get to the liquor store or the laundromat or the burger bar.” 5 likes
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