Elizabeth's Reviews > Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life by Mal Peet
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's review
Oct 15, 12

bookshelves: the-waste-land
Read in October, 2012

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 is Vonda Michaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller ). So Mal Peet and I have met, and sat next to each other and patted each other on the back as we accepted our awards, and were dragged apart just as we’d started a really interesting conversation about Westland Lysanders, and sat on a much-too-short panel together being asked really good questions by Martha Parravano on the theme ‘War Stories’.

Also, curiously, Life: An Exploded Diagram shares all the peculiarities of Code Name Verity that trip up the inattentive reader: a complex narrative structure in which the narrator refers to himself/herself in the third person for most of the book; flashbacks to several different time periods; an overaged narrator for a teen read; sections which focus on contemporaneous historical events which interrupt the action of the story; and overall, a love of the sound of words and something bordering on worship of place. Not surprisingly, I wallow in this kind of writing and adore reading it. I’m reckoning the same readers who find Code Name Verity difficult to get through will find Life: An Exploded Diagram equally dense. But readers who enjoyed CNV might really enjoy Life.

I should probably also mention that this book reminded me a LOT of Red Shift for many reasons, and also that I think it is a bit old-fashioned that way - while being quite innovative, there is a long literary history that feeds into the crafting of this novel.

I love this book because it has made me understand the Cuban Missile Crisis in a way that, for the first time ever, makes sense.

I love this book because it captures 20th century Norfolk and the changes in the land so beautifully.

I love Frankie and her beauty - I love the worship of the desire and sensuality of youth - and I love the triumph against the odds of the Grammar School Boys, first of their kind (partly because I am married to one and like seeing this early description of what the grammar schools actually offered).

And I love that the author, in spite of himself, has given me the chance to believe in a happy ending.

Thank you Mal Peet, and congratulations!


(I don't know if it really qualifies as a Wasteland Book, but there are a lot of themes I recognize going on here.)
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message 1: by Els (new)

Els Breaking my near-total Goodreads silence to thank you for this review-- I read the book on the strength of it, and am so glad I did, for many of the reasons you mentioned (including: oh so THAT'S what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis).

So: ta!

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