Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Separate Peace

Rate this book
An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.

Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

John Knowles

81 books333 followers
John Knowles (September 16, 1926 - November 29, 2001), b. Fairmont, West Virginia, was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.

A 1945 graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949W. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles' experiences at Exeter during the summer of 1943. The setting for The Devon School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:

The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, athleticism, and loyalty.

The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles took to his grave the secret of whether Finny was all a part of his imagination, or an actual friend whose true identity was never spoken.

Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."

Knowles' other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works were as well received as A Separate Peace.

A resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
49,049 (23%)
4 stars
70,475 (33%)
3 stars
58,986 (27%)
2 stars
23,138 (10%)
1 star
10,311 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,966 reviews
Profile Image for The Library Lady.
3,588 reviews522 followers
April 2, 2011
I remember this book distinctly because seldom have I hated a book more.
In addition to being a depressing piece of work, it is about as relevant to kids today as a 45RPM single (that's something we had before CDs, boys and girls). Why are they still putting it on reading lists? What fan of John Knowles has been paying teachers to force this on the kids?
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 19, 2015
"And the rays of the sun were shooting past them, millions of rays shooting past them like--like golden machine-gun fire."

Gene is a boy from the South attending an exclusive New Hampshire prep school. He becomes best friends with a New Englander from Boston named Phineas. Let me amend that, Phineas chooses Gene as his friend and any thoughts that Gene has of being friends with anyone else are quickly dispersed as he is pulled into the shimmering chimeric world creating and constantly maintained by Phineas.

"The winter loves me," he retorted, and then, disliking the whimsical sound of that, added, "I mean as much as you can say a season can love> What I mean is, I love winter, and when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love." I didn't think that this was true, my seventeen years of experience had shown this to be much more false than true, but it was like every other thought and belief of Finny's: it should have been true. So I didn't argue.

Gene, maybe because he is going to school with boys from New England who have the advantage of generations of proper schooling drilled into their DNA, feels the insecurity of his origins acutely and feels the pressure to apply himself to his studies. In fact he is in contention for the top of class until Phineas's antics start to distract him too much from his academic endeavors.

Phineas is a prophet, a boy so convinced in his own convictions that he can persuade anyone to not only do anything, but also believe in why they are doing it. One such inspired creation was to convince his friends to follow him onto a slender tree limb and use it as a springboard into the lake. He forms a society around the event. To join, one must take the plunge.

Phineas is a fine athlete and as Gene starts to weigh their relationship he starts to believe that Finny is intentionally pulling him away from his study to keep the scales of friendship out of balance. He feels his academic record compensates for Phineas's awards for athleticism. He wants to feel equal. He wants to deserve the friendship. When Phineas pulls him away from his French studies to attend a now ritualized lake baptism, Gene goes, but his mind is in a dark place.


The results are a turning point in the book. Gene is so worried about his own insecurities he mistakes Phineas's confidence for worldly assurance. In reality, Phineas is the most naive of them all. In the enclosed environment of Devon School he can bend the world to fit his own kaleidoscopic. For a while he can even convince himself that the ongoing war is a hoax. "That's what this whole war story is. A medicinal drug...the whole world is on a Funny Farm now. But it's only the fat old men who get the joke. And Phineas of course.

Betrayal begets more betrayal and Gene and Phineas both discover they are not who they perceive themselves to be. They become straw versions of themselves, so shattered and shaken that they can barely remember joys experienced mere months before. A lifetime friendship is reduced to a fraction of it's intended span.

This book stands on the shoulders of Phineas. He is simply an amazing character who lifts a wallflower of a plot to the level of a masterpiece. I wanted to be his friend. I wanted to help him maintain his delusions. I wanted to breath life into the way he wanted the world to be. Highly Recommended!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,085 reviews7,007 followers
December 11, 2021
[Edited for typos and pictures added 12/11/21]

A short review because I can’t add much to the thousands of reviews that are out there.

The story takes place at an elite all-boys New England prep school. (A thinly disguised Phillips Exter Academy in New Hampshire that the author attended.) The two main characters are opposites in many ways: an introverted, intellectual Southern boy and a Northerner who is outgoing, athletic, a risk-taker. The latter is a natural leader among the boys but he struggles with his studies. They become fast friends


So it’s a male-bonding, loss of innocence, coming of age story set just before World War II, when the threat of the draft hangs over all the boys. One of the secondary characters is drafted and comes back psychologically wrecked.

I did not have to read this in high school as many folks did. It has a relatively low rating on GR: a 3.6 based on more than 150,000 GR ratings. That’s pretty low for a “classic.” In perusing reviews by others I am struck by how often someone leads off with “I hated this book” or “I loathed this book.” Maybe because it was required reading? LOL. Why out of thousands of books out there do we make millions of kids read this one?

Coincidentally, at about the same time that I was reading A Separate Peace, I also happened to be reading Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, and I was struck by the similarities between the two: male bonding, coming of age (but at an elite college instead of a prep school); a war and the draft hanging over them (WW I for Fitzgerald; WW II for the prep school boys).


Good, but not great: I gave it a “3.”

Top photo of Phillips Exeter from businessinsider.com
The author (1926-2001) from fairmontstate.edu
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
872 reviews1,758 followers
May 27, 2018
Gene attended an exclusive New Hampshire school. 15 years later he came back to Devon School to seek forgiveness for what he did here while he was a student. In his school days he became friends with Finny, an outstanding athlete. Finny was a favorite of everyone. fellow students used to look up to him as their inspiration and teachers were mighty impressed with this boy for whatever he said prevailed. Gene was a spectacular student academically while Finny's dream was to attend Olympics of 1944. Then one day in accident Finny fell from a tree and broke his legs and with it his Olympic dreams. And the story evolved it was revealed that accident that broke Finny's leg might be intentional.

Once Finny's back in school, things never get back to normal. For one it was WWII and students found themselves to be in difficult situation. They wanted to go and yet were hesitating after all to stand right in front of death was not a happy place to be. Environment at Devon got suffocating and poisonous with each passing day. One can draw the similarities between Devon and America in WWII. how the war was effecting the peace and hesitation of Devon and America to jump in the War..

But this story stands out in how it describe the suffocation that one felt when they come to realize that the bad that they had done need not to be done. The guilt and remorse just eats them out. confession would led to losing the love that they so dearly want and crave and yet in the bottom of their heart they know they don't deserve that trust, devotion, and love.

a beautiful tale of friendship, trust, love, jealousy, and betrayal.
Profile Image for SR.
1,649 reviews49 followers
September 5, 2008
I remember viscerally hating this - I found it incredibly boring and I don't think anything really happened except a whole bunch of wank about being a moron and running and a paragraph lovingly describing a side character's butt. I don't even know.

Furthermore, it was for eighth-grade English. My teacher gave us a quiz on some random detail-bits, and I remembered little things like how many years had passed between Point A and Point Boring, and that somehow meant that I wasn't actually UNDERSTANDING the damn book (because it is of course impossible to have a sticky memory and still glean deeper meaning from one's reading), so Teacher and Teacher's Pet called me "petty" for the rest of the day. I totally cried when the Pet got in on it, but that was also because that week SUCKED - my aunt had died of cancer earlier in the week, and the day of the quiz was when I was leaving around noon to go to her funeral.

...I never actually review books, I just rant about their associated circumstances. Sorry.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
September 8, 2012
I recently re-read this book for the AP class that I'm teaching and I was reminded of what a deceptively simple book this appears to be on the surface. Set in Devon (an all boys prep school) during WWII, A Separate Peace explores how the encroaching reality of war affects the psychological and social development of all the boys attending the school. The poignant irony of providing these young men with a classics based education at a prestigious school just to be sent into war to kill and be killed effectively shows how, before they even make it to the battlefield, the war cripples them--for one physically, for the others psychologically. The book focuses on the relationship between Finny, the popular and perfect athlete, and Gene, the intelligent and dangerously introspective one. Gene's all-consuming envy toward Finny causes him to shake the tree limb both are standing on; Finny falls to the ground and breaks his leg. The event serves as a metaphor for how Gene's betrayal of the friendship has broken Finny.

Effective use is made of Finny as a Christ figure and we witness as Gene grows psychologically in response to the realization that he has destroyed not just Finny's athletic career, but also Finny's essence. Gene comes to understand that the real enemy is the enemy within and, through Finny, Gene finds a form of salvation from his dark, neurotic tendencies.

Knowles does so much with setting and imagery in the book that I pick up on something new every time I read it. Wonderful novel.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,828 followers
October 18, 2016
This is one of those "required summer reading novels". In fact, while I am sure they are out there, I don't think I have ever met anyone who read this and it was not required for school.

But, it was an enjoyable required read. Focusing on coming of age, schoolboy friendships, etc. Not too much else I can say without spoiling it, but it was kinda rough on the teenage spirit at the time. We think we can all survive anything when we are young . . .

If you were never required to read this one for school, it is worth the read!
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews723 followers
February 28, 2020
This is an American classic I didn't know yet, but got to know via Goodreads. Turns out many of my Goodreads friends read it already, so I discovered this is a well known book. Beautiful read. Brooding story, a coming of age tale with a dark side. Need to reread it again for all the details and the beautiful language. In some way it made me think of Brideshead Revisited, a grand book as well.
For those who don't know this book yet...
Set at a boy's boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, we meet Gene and Phineas, two students. A harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.
Profile Image for James.
Author 19 books3,575 followers
June 26, 2020
Book Review
3 of 5 stars to A Separate Peace, a novel written in 1959 by John Knowles. I suspect if I were to re-read this "classic" again now, it has a chance of getting a higher rating; however, I'm not in a rush to prove the theory. I have a few good memories of the story, some a bit "blah," but overall... it was a decent book. When I read The Secret History last year, I had vague recollections of this being somewhat similar, though the topics are quite different.

At the core, this is a coming-of-age story focused on Gene and Finny, two polar opposite boys at a prep school around the time of WW2. An accident occurs which may have been deliberate, thus becoming the focus of the story. As a result of the accident, one of the characters suffers an injury that prevents him from continuing on his path to the Olympics. Friends take sides. Families wonder. But the friends try not to question it. Until other people force them to. And in the end, there is pain, death, forgiveness and unexpected consequences.

The book is a good juxtaposition of lifestyles and choices. It makes you think about what you'd do in such a situation. How far can one person be pushed? And when you do something wrong, do you tell anyone, especially if you can get away with it? Lots to teach young adults, learning to make their own decisions and set a path for their life.

I enjoyed the story, but I would have preferred a more modern setting. I'm not a fan of excessive sports or war, and these were two central themes in the book, which ultimately led me to feel partially disconnected. But the parts inside the character's head, questioning motives, being psychological in their analysis, were the ones worth reading.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews593 followers
March 18, 2016
Maybe I'm bias, but a little bit of bromance could've gone a long way here. A Separate Peace is essentially a story of the relationship between two boys, and if it went a little farther, I think the points it made would've driven much deeper.

The plot mostly revolves around a single character, Finny, and although he's lively and exciting, this story is far from. And as such, I can't imagine it being too enjoyable to the middle schoolers and freshmen it is regularly assigned to. But for older more-patient readers, there's plenty to enjoy. What it lacks in excitement, it makes up in every other way.

The prose, while pretty plain, is beautiful and flows so well it's easy to burn through this book in no time. The plot, while simple, has a few shockers--and with the story being so short--it almost comes off as a page-turner. Finny is simply one of the funnest, most interesting characters I've come across. And the way John Knowles relates the war to school, and the way the incidents in the story affect Finny's relation to the war and his best friend... It's just brilliant.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews608 followers
December 14, 2021
I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.

Only Phineas never was afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone. Other people experienced this fearful shock somewhere, this sighting of the enemy, and so began an obsessive labor of defense, began to parry the menace they saw facing them by developing a particular frame of mind, “You see,” their behavior toward everything and everyone proclaimed, “I am a humble ant, I am nothing, I am not worthy of this menace,” or else, like Mr. Ludsbury, “How dare this threaten me, I am much too good for this sort of handling, I shall rise above this,” or else, like Quackenbush, strike out at it always and everywhere, or else, like Brinker, develop a careless general resentment against it, or else, like Leper, emerge from a protective cloud of vagueness only to meet it, the horror, face to face, just as he had always feared, and so give up the struggle absolutely.

All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way—if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.
Regular readers of my reviews of classics know that I regularly used Cliff’s Notes in school. I had a library of them. I’d always (often? occasionally?) try to read the book, but when I got bored, I’d stop reading the book and just turn to my buddy Cliff. But every now and then, a book would grab my interest and I’d truly read it. A Separate Peace was one of those books.

A Separate Peace is mostly one long flashback. Gene Forrester has returned to his old New England boarding school, Devon, fifteen years after he graduated in 1943. He thinks back upon his last year in school, which was dominated by the fact that his class would soon be enlisting or drafted into the war. And he thinks about his best friend, Phineas. While Gene was bookish and a bit reserved, Finny (at least in Gene’s memory) was nearly perfect: not only effortlessly charming, gregarious, and athletic, but also kind and genuine. Gene plainly loves Finny—platonically if not romantically (there isn’t much textual support for a romantic interpretation, but I get why some people read it that way)—but Finny is such a bright light that he unintentionally leaves Gene feeling like he’s trapped in the shadow. And in a moment full of envy and jealousy, Gene does something that changes his best friend’s life.

Each time I reread A Separate Peace I go into it with a fairly clean slate because a fair amount of story is not that memorable, which is an odd thing to say about a favorite book I’ve read multiple times. I always forget the fun details, the carefree portions of the story: the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, blitzball, Finny’s refusal to believe WWII was real, the Winter Carnival. Instead I always remember the constant presence of the war just beyond the horizon, and the novel’s dark core: Gene and Finny, the tree and the stairs, the sad story of Elwin "Leper" Lepellier, the inquiry and the ending.

Because it’s the dark parts of A Separate Peace that made such an impression on me all those years ago. Every teenager has a friend who they love in one way or another even while feeling inferior to, or envious or jealous of them. Seeing that kind of complicated relationship on the page, seeing Gene act on that shameful side of himself, and what it cost him, resonated deeply in my teenage brain. And not just with me. I had a friendship in high school that had some of this same tangled emotional energy, and when one of us did something accidentally (let’s be honest, sometimes intentionally) to sabotage the other, we’d talk about it later literally using shorthand references to Gene and Finny. The fact that Gene came through the other side changed, and seemingly a better person, was a hopeful sign that I too would eventually outgrow such petty thoughts.

Is A Separate Peace objectively a great book? Probably, as it was a finalist for the National Book Award. But like Gene returning to Devon, I can’t quite see it clearly. As much as I try to read it critically, it’s always more of an emotional experience. Highly recommended, especially if you somehow weren’t required to read it in school (or if you cheated your way through it then 😊).
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
August 13, 2017
Competitors and rivals. Best friends. There is always one who is more outgoing, more apt to take risks. Here we have one who is more comfortable abiding by the rules, the other flagrantly flaunting them. What about the one who is pulled along for the ride? Is he an unwilling participant or simply someone who needs a push? Suspicion and resentment, loyalty and betrayal.
Profile Image for Ed.
6 reviews10 followers
May 26, 2018
My first novel.

Tiring of typical grade school fare I surreptitiously ordered A Separate Peace from the "other side" of the monthly Bantam book order form - unbeknownst to my Mother and my teacher. As grade school and high school books were shipped intermingled I plucked my order from the school shipment the moment the boxes were opened. Before I even opened the book I sensed that if I wanted to finish it, I better do so secretly.

I had no trouble reading the piece from a vocabulary standpoint but more importantly I found I was capable of transcending my years in grasping the mature subject matters it proposed. In retrospect I probably had no business reading such a book at such an early age.

But I did.

And it forever changed my understanding of what books could be.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
April 11, 2012
This is an American classic? Why? Now I’m not saying that it’s a bad novel. I just don’t see how it’s a particularly great one.

Perhaps, it’s ultimately because the book never worked to make me identify with the situation where the event took place. Instead, the entire conflict felt contrived. We are told of an atmosphere of driven competition in a school where everyone is an enemy and no one a real friend. But except being told so by Gene no one else in the book seems to notice this. I can imagine though that if this culture is something you recognise as being part and parcel of adolescence and school life, then the book would immediately and powerfully resonate.

Me? This relentless fight and struggle that fuels the conflict at the centre of the book never felt real, and so the book’s heart of darkness felt more like an evanescent shadow play rather than the savage fight it is supposed to be. It certainly did not grip me with the power of the classic depictions of innate human savagery that predated it: Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies spring to mind. As a result, the last few paragraphs of the novel—their conclusions on human nature—don’t seem to have been earned, and so, don’t convince.

The other possibility, of course, is that this vicious struggle is wholly and only in Gene’s mind. If all there is to the conflict is Gene’s personal hate and envy of goodness and his desire to destroy it—that this is the something “fundamentally ignorant about the human heart”—then I find the novel somewhat repugnant.

Profile Image for mary.
12 reviews78 followers
March 25, 2007
this book devastated me.

i read it in high school, like most people. it was the year with all the "classics" that everyone has read at some point in schooling, all depicting young adults in various stages of angst or 19th century high drama or epic poems. whatever.

but this book gave me such a strong physical reaction - i sobbed and felt ill through so much of this story. i think i related too much with the characters for my own good, and the psychological slap-around of the evil in every person was a little hard to handle. all the jealousy and rivalry and the nasty toe gunk of human nature gets shoved down your throat like a horse pill. i saw a lot of myself in gene, and i was desperately in love with finny, or more specifically the idea of him. all my emotions were bigger and more innocent then, and i was torn to pieces.

the passages about revolting against the adult schema rocked my world. i can't remember them specifically anymore, but i just remember underlining and re-reading and re-reading through all the tears. i tried to pick up this book recently, when i found it in a stack of my high school material, but i just couldn't read it again. i think i would rather have the tragically strong memories of this book not be clouded by my older and better judgement.

oh god. with the pool? and breaking that record! oh, and leper with the going crazy in the army! and the tree. and the staircase. oh, i'm feeling ill all over again.
Profile Image for Carolyn Marie  Castagna.
274 reviews5,778 followers
June 24, 2020
“It wasn’t the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.”

To put it plainly, this book astonished me! It was alive with a plethora of my favorite literary elements and explorations of: loyalty, friendship, captivating descriptions, simple lyricism, poignant aspects of war, and examinations of the human condition. The list is endless really. 

The story begins 15 years after the events of the story occur. Gene, our first person narrator is visiting his old (all-boys) private school, Devon, which he attended in 1942, during the early years of the second world war. He visits two specific and personal places on the school grounds; as the reader, you do not know the significance of these sites until Gene brings us back in time to his days at Devon. As he was walking to and from these noteworthy places, it started to rain, making his jaunt around the grounds a very muddy one. He then says, “Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched; anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain.” Then the next line brings us back 15 years and sets the rest of the story in motion. 

What I found so moving about this type of transition from present to past, was the way he used the element of rain to signify his past memories. “...it was time to come in out of the rain.” It was time to leave these things remembered, and move on. What we later realize is that Gene is unable to move on. 

16 year old Gene then introduced us to his room mate and best friend Phineas. A smooth talking, daredevil athlete, who’s handsome features Gene can’t help but describe in stunning detail. “Phineas just walked serenely on, or rather flowed on, rolling forward in his white sneakers with such unthinking unity of movement that “walk” didn’t describe it.” I myself couldn’t help but feel a degree of infatuation as I read this line, and many more concerning even Phineas’ mere movements and tone of voice. Even the way his eyes shined their hazel green was transcribed to us. Was this Gene’s inner desire coming through, or a hint of jealousy? That is left up to the reader. 

This book is one that puts a lot of weight and meaning into its title. As I read, I kept circling the amount of times “peace” was used in a sentence, and ultimately I lost count. John Knowles illustrates, in a very affecting way, the indirect effects that the war had on these young boys. “Why go through the motions of getting an education and watch the war chip away at the one thing I had loved here, the peace, the measureless, careless peace of the Devon summer?” This feeling that war and peace are muddled together can also be compared to the way Gene and Phineas also “are muddled together.” I’ll let you find out which one is war and which one is peace. I will also leave you with this last quote, because I find it confoundingly raw. “What deceived me was my own happiness; for peace is indivisible, and the surrounding world confusion found no reflection inside me. So I ceased to have any real sense of it.”

This book broke my heart, but at least it did it while using beautiful words.  
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
February 28, 2022
Since we have this new war in Ukraine to occupy our attention, I have been thinking of books I’ve read that speak to man’s need to kill each other, that aggressive, violent trait, and I recalled reading A Separate Peace in high school, as most people did in the USA in the sixties, as required school reading, in part because it was a coming-of-age book. There was a growing recognition in the mid- to late-sixties (the Student Revolution on college campuses was part of this movement) that books that spoke directly to adolescents might increase reading fluency and engagement, and there were few of these books to offer young people in those early days of YAL. This novel was published in 1959 and is a kind of a coming-of-age gem.

John Knowles was a 1945 graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious East coast boys’ prep school, so he wrote a novel and called Exeter Devon in part based on his experiences there, including his own broken leg from a fall from a tree. I call this a war novel now because, though it takes place in a sheltered and privileged location it takes place as many young men (and so many others) were dying in WWII.

As happens in the US, the great geographical distance from Europe, Korea, Viet Nam, and so on make it difficult for homelanders to fully understand the nature of the day-to-day experience young people (i.e., soldiers) have of war. Also, it can take young people a long time to feel as if they are part of the global community, of course; as Gene says,

“I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.”

The key moment in the book happens in a tree; a place of macho challenges: Who will climb it and jump into the river? Only the bravest, of course. This moment--and it does just take a moment or so--happens between best friends Phineas and Gene, but invites some questions: Did Finny fall (and break his leg) or was he the victim of a moment of aggression by Gene? The shy intellectual Gene adores the confident, athletic Finny, and there are some strong homo-erotic indications in narrator Gene’s descriptions of him, though these tendencies are never named as homosexual (in part, I take it, because it was a 1959 publication; I am sure we never discussed in class the possibility of the boys being gay). Some (possible) desires, some frictions, and some ambivalence drive their relationship. Do all of these roiling emotions lead to a so-small and yet so-large moment of violence?

Gene says, about his desire to be Finny: "I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas.”

Much of the novel tries to unravel the mystery of that moment even as older boys head out to Europe to fight the Fuhrer, encouraged by patriotic fervor and naivete and patriotism. No one anticipates what happens to sweet and simple naturalist student Lepellier (also known as Leper), who is discharged from the army after a nervous breakdown from what he has seen in combat--amputated limbs, bloody massacres. When Gene goes to visit Leper, in recovery at home, Gene can’t process what Leper is going through; he yells at Leper and tells him to shut up, to stop telling him what he has experienced:

“I don’t care what happened to you! It has nothing to do with me!”

But it does have something to do with him, and he knows it:

"Fear seized my stomach like a cramp. I didn’t care what I said to him now; it was myself I was worried about. For if Leper was psycho it was the army which had done it to him, and I and all of us were on the brink of the army."

Leper asks a key question no patriotic citizen who had not served in the military would have or could have asked at the time:

“Am I crazy? Or is the army crazy? I couldn’t sleep at night and could only sleep when I wasn’t in my bed; everything was mixed up, turned upside down.”

Still, all these other boys who have not yet enlisted, all these boys still in school at Devon, who are cut off from the reality of war, are not cut off from the darker aspects of their human natures-anger, jealousy, love--as they interact with each other, and grow from boys into men in their privileged--”high IQs and expensive shoes”--Devon private boys school.

“. . . there was always something deadly lurking in anything I wanted, anything I loved.”

Eventually Gene begins to see:

“It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”

Ultimately this is a growing-up story, and a good one:

“I did not know everything there was to know about myself, and knew that I did not know it.”

And it’s about war and peace:

“. . . it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.”
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,744 followers
December 21, 2022
Twenty-five years ago, my best friend in high school handed me this book and told me "you must read this." I did, for the first time, this week. I think it has fallen out of popularity as required reading in high school, possibly due to its New England boarding school setting, or its WWII time period or its characters only consisting of white, affluent males.

However, despite some of today's youth being out of touch with some or all of these things, they are absolutely in touch with the central theme: adolescence. This novel has a simple setting, a basic plot, few characters and limited dialogue. Yet, it is quite brilliant. The writer in me applauded. I don't know if I've ever been more startled by a protagonist as I was while reading this novel, or more appreciative in how much is said in fewer than 200 pages. Hardly a word is wasted. As corny as this may sound, I wanted to shake the author's hand and say "thank you for making me think and feel and for not wasting my time." Bravo.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 22, 2019
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
A Separate Peace is a coming-of-age novel by John Knowles, published in 1959.
Gene Forrester returns to his old prep school. 15 years after he graduated, to visit two places he regards as "fearful sites": a flight of marble stairs and a big tree by the river from which he caused his friend, Phineas, to fall. First, he examines the stairs and notices that they are made of very hard marble. He then goes to the tree, which brings back memories of his time as a student at Devon.
From this point, the novel follows Gene's description of the time from the summer of 1942, to the summer of 1943. In 1942, he is 16 and living at Devon with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (nicknamed Finny). World War II is taking place and has a prominent effect on the story. Gene and Finny, despite being opposites in personality, are close friends: Gene's quiet, introverted, intellectual personality is a character foil for Finny's extroverted, carefree athleticism. One of Finny's ideas during their "gypsy summer" of 1942 is to create a "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session", with Gene and himself as charter members. Finny creates a rite of initiation by having members jump into the Devon River from a large, high tree. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و دوم ماه نوامبر سال 2018 میلادی
عنوان: ‏‫آسوده از جنگ؛ نویسنده: جان نولز‮‬‏‫؛ مترجم: امیر رئیس‌ اوژن؛ تهران: راه معاصر‏‫، 1396؛ در 232 ص؛ شابک: 9786006585390؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20 م
آسوده از جنگ، روایتی ست فرسنگها دور از میدان جنگ؛ فارغ از تمام کشت و کشتارهای خونین و بمبارانهای بی امان. این اثر، داستان مردی میان‌سال است که از شانزده سالگی و از خاطرات خویش در گیرودار جنگ جهانی دوم مینویسد، و با وجود آن که این رمان، پیرامون جنگ دوم جهانی میچرخد، هیچ صحنه ای از جنگ را به تصویر نمی‌کشد، و تنها حضور مداوم آن، همچون سایه ای مخوف، بر سطر سطر کتاب سایه افکنده است. بهتر است بگوییم جنگ در این کتاب، نشان از ستیزی دوگانه دارد؛ یکی جنگ بیرونی و دیگری نبردی با درون. جنگ بیرونی بر کسی پوشیده نیست؛ اما نبرد درونی، نبردی ست، که از چشم همگان پنهان است، و انسان را بر آن میدارد، تا تیغ از نیام برکشد، و به ستیز با دشمن درون خویش برود؛ دشمنی که آدمی آن را به تدریج در درون خود مییابد، آرامش را از او سلب میکند و در نتیجه، آدمی برای به چنگ آوردن آرامش ربوده شده ی خود، علیه خویشتن که عامل این بیقراری ست، قیام میکند.نقل نمونه متن: «یکم: مدتی پیش به مدرسه ­ی دوون رفتم، و دیدم که به طرز عجیبی، نسبت به پانزده سال پیش که محصلِ آنجا بودم، نوتر شده است. تا جاییکه حافظه ام یاری می­کرد، فضایش در قیاس با گذشته، آرامتر و ظاهرش استوارتر جلوه میکرد؛ انگار به دانش آموزان بیشتر از گذشته سخت گیری می­شد. پنجره ­هایش کوچک­تر از قبل به نظر میرسید، و چوب­کاری­ هایش برق می­زد؛ انگار که برای نگهداری بهتر، لایه­ ای از روغنِ جلا، بر همه­ چیز زده بودند. البته، خُب، پانزده سال پیش در بحبوحه ­ی جنگ بود، و شاید از مدرسه به این خوبی نگهداری نمی­شد؛ شاید واکس و جلا هم مثل باقی چیزها به جنگ فرستاده میشد. راستش را بخواهید، از کف صیقلی مدرسه، چندان خوشم نیامد؛ چون مدرسه، شبیه موزه شده بود. آره، آنجا برای من همینگونه به نظر میآمد؛ منتها اصلاً دلم نمی­خواست، مدرسه­ ی ما مثل موزه باشد. ته دلم، جاییکه احساسات بر منطقم غلبه می­کند، همیشه این احساس ناگفته را داشته ­ام، که نطفه ­ی مدرسه­ ی دوون، از وقتیکه پای در آن گذاشتم، در زندگیم بسته شد. سپس، طی دوران تحصیلم به واقعیتی پرشور تبد��ل شد و دست آخر، همین که آنجا را ترک کردم، در چشم به هم زدنی از زندگیم محو شد. همه­ ی اینها به کنار، حالا مدرسه به دست افرادی اداره میشد که شش دنگ حواسشان، معطوف به نه داری و جلا انداختنِ آن بود. همچنین، ترسی آشنا، که سراسر روز­های جنگ را آکنده کرده بود، همانند دیگر چیز­های که به خوبی از آنها محافظت می­شد، در آنجا باقی مانده بود؛ درست شبیه هوایی خفه، توی اتاقی دم­کرده، و حالا آن حس، به قدری برایم آشنا بود، که اصلاً حضور پررنگ آن را، نمی­توانستم احساس کنم. خب، وقتی که مزه ی نترسیدن را نچشیده ­ام، یا حال و هوایش برایم غریبه است، چطور حضور صلح و آرامش را می­توانستم احساس کنم. اکنون که به پانزده سال پیش برمی­گردم، فقط ترسی را به روشنی می­بینم، که در آن زمان، همه ی زندگی­م را سرشار کرده بود، و حالا این تصور، نوید آن را می­داد، که من در آن دوره توانسته ­ام کاری را با موفقیت، به سرانجام برسانم؛ باید هرطور که شده، راه فراری از آن ترس برای خود، پیدا می­کردم. ایستاده بودم و رعشه ­های ترس را، که همراه آن شادی بی اختیار و عنان گسیخته­ ای بود، در رگ و پی خود احساس میکردم؛ دو حالت متضاد که همواره با هم، به سراغ من میآمدند. این حس شادی در آن دوران، گاهی مثل شفق قطبی، آسمان تیره را روشن می­کرد. یکی دو جا بود که حالا دلم می­خواست، به آنها سر بزنم. هر دو جا، مکانهای ترسناکی بودند، و به همین دلیل، می­خواستم آنها را ببینم. پس از اینکه در مهمانسرای «دوون» نهار خوردم، به سمت مدرسه، قدم­زنان برگشتم. آن وقت سال، هوا خشک و وصف ­ناپذیر بود؛ تقریباً چیزی به اواخر نوامبر باقی نمانده بود؛ از آن روزهای زمستانی و بارانی؛ وقتی که گِل و شُل همه ­جا را فرا میگیرد و آدم احساس بیچارگی می­کند. خوشبختانه، در «دوون» خبری از اینگونه هوا نبود - آب و هوای آنجا اغلب شامل یخ­بندانهای زمستان یا تابستان­های سوزان نیو­همپشایر میشد - اما آن روز، بادِ عجیبی می­وزید و تندباد داشت مرا با خود میبرد. در امتداد خیابان گیلمن قدم زدم؛ جاییکه بهترین خیابان شهر محسوب می­شد. تا آنجا که یادم می­آمد، مثل گذشته، خانه­ ها همچنان زیبا و غریب بودند. نوسازی­های ماهرانه ای، از خانه­ های استعماری قدیمی انجام، و اضافه­ بناهایی با چوب­­های ویکتوریایی ساخته شده بود. همچنین، معبدهای بزرگی با سبک معماری احیای یونانی بنا کرده بودند. حالا همه ­­ی آنها کنار خیابان صف کشیده بودند، و مثل همیشه هوش از سر آدم می­ربود، و ترس به جانش می­انداخت. به ندرت کسی را دیدم، که وارد یکی از این ساختمانها بشود، یا روی علف­ها بازی کند، یا حداقل پنجره­ ای را باز کند. امروز خانه ­ها با پاپیتال­های پژمرده، و درختان تن­ لخت که باد ناله ­ی آنها را بلند می­کرد، هم آنجا را زیباتر کرده بود و هم بی­روح­تر. مانند هر مدرسه­ ی باسابقه و خوبی، دوون دورافتاده بود، و پشت هیچ دیوار و دروازه­ ای بنا نشده بود. بسیار طبیعی از دل شهر سر برآورده بود. پس، با نزدیک شدنم، صحنه­ ای غافلگیرم نکرد. انگار خانه ­های امتداد خیابان گیلمن، کم کم داشتند مرا پس می­زدند؛ این بدان معنا بود که داشتم به مدرسه نزدیک می­شدم. وقتی که بیشتر از نفس افتادم، فهمیدم پا توی مدرسه گذاشته ­ام. سر ظهر بود و توی محوطه و ساختمانهای مدرسه، پرنده­­ ای پر نمی­زد؛ چرا که همه ­ی دانش ­آموزان، آنجا را برای ورزش ترک کرده بودند. حین عبور از حیاط بزرگی که معروف به محوطه­ ی دور بود، هیچ چیز حواسم را پرت نکرد. به سمت ساختمانی با آجرهای قرمز رفتم؛ یکی از همان ساختمانهای خوش­ ساخت بود؛ منتها سقفش را گنبدی شکل ساخته بودند و زنگی توی گنبدش آویخته بودند. ساعتی هم روی سر درِ آن نصب کرده و به لاتین نوشته بودند: اولین ساختمان مدرسه. از در بادبزنی که رد شدم، به یک سرسرای مرمری رسیدم. کنار پلکانی دراز و کنار اولین پله ی مرمریِ سفید ایستادم. با وجود اینکه پلکانها قدیمی بودند، هنوز رنگ و روی طرح ماهِ وسطِ هر کدام از پلکانها نرفته بود. جنس مرمر آنهم به طرزی عجیب سخت بود. بله، شاید خیلی سخت بوده، خیلی! به هر حال، با وجود اینهمه فکری که صرف سختی این پلکان کرده بودم، عجیب است که تا به حال، هیچ متوجه این موضوع نشده بودم، آنهم موضوعی به این مهمی! چیز دیگری توجهم را جلب نکرد؛ آره، قطعاً اینها همان پله ­هایی هستند که من در ایام بودنم در «دوون»، حداقل روزی یکبار از آنها بالا و پایین می­رفتم. اینها هیچ فرقی با قدیم نداشتند؛ اما خودم چی؟ خب، طبیعتاً پیرتر شده بودم - در آن لحظه احساساتم را به ورطه ­ی آزمایش قرار دادم تا ببینم چقدر تغییر کرده ام- قدم بلندتر شده و جثه ­ام نسبت به پله ­ها بزرگتر شده بود. همچنین، پول و موفقیت و امنیتِ بیشتری داشتم؛ البته در مقایسه با روزگاری که فکر و تشویش آینده، با من از همین پله­ ها بالا و پایین می­رفتند. رویم را برگرداندم و از ساختمان بیرون رفتم. محوطه ­ی دور همچنان سوت و کور بود. من هم قدم­زنان مسیر سنگفرش شده را طی می­کردم و از زیر درختان انبوه و سر به فلک کشیده، همان نارون­های قرمزِ نیوانگلند تا دور دور­های مدرسه رفتم. و...»؛ پایان نقل. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,313 reviews10 followers
February 20, 2016
I had to read this book in 11th grade English. I hated it. I had to read it again in college. I still hated it. I don't know why everyone thinks it's so great. Please, explain the appeal to me!
Profile Image for Manuel.
23 reviews17 followers
April 11, 2008
I LOATHED this book. I was required to read this piece of crap when I was a sophomore at Carmel High.
When you are in high school, you are required to read many books as part of a required reading list. Often times, you groan when you pick up something that looks like it will be a chore to read, but in the end the book will have a semblance of value. Many books will entertain you or at least you can say you learned something new. I didnt enjoy reading the "The Scarlet Letter" or "Billy Bud", but as I grew older I recognized their merit.
I having nothing good to say about this mind numbing dribble of teenage angst. I didnt find the main characters very likable or sympathetic and frankly I am astonished as to why this rubbish was considered required reading for high school?
Becoming a teenager was not an easy time for most of us, but Im sure there are far better books dealing with and explaining those difficult years than this story of two prep school brats at the cusp of WWII.
I dont believe in censorship or book burnings, but if I were ever forced to participate in something so disagreeable; this book would be the first thing I would throw into the flames.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
January 18, 2021
A book should be judged on its own merit, but I don't think I can do that with this one. Take my review with a grain of salt because I'm comparing it to a masterpiece.

A couple months ago I read A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is one of those books you eat, sleep, and breathe, not just for the duration of time you're reading it, but for months after. I'm still immersed in that book. I miss reading it.

I think I decided to read A Separate Peace mainly because it sounds similar. It often appears on "books you need to read" lists but until now, I thought it sounded boring. The reason it no longer sounded boring? Its similarity to A Prayer for Owen Meany:

Setting: New England, private boy's school. Teenage boy narrates. His entire life was defined by the events with his best friend that he writes about. There's a war going on. Innocence lost.

That's where the similarity ends. While A Separate Peace is good, it's not A-Prayer-for-Owen-Meany good. It didn't live up and I knew it wouldn't but had to try anyway. 

Though it's only a third of the length, this book felt so much longer. It dragged. It's introspective and I like that in novels, but it just didn't seem to go anywhere.  It's pretty much Gene the narrator working out his confused feelings towards his friend Phineas and sorting through his guilt about what happened in the summer before their final year of school. 

Had I not constantly been comparing this to a better book, maybe I would have liked it more. Impossible to say.
Profile Image for Rhonda.
331 reviews50 followers
March 9, 2014
I hadn’t thought of writing a review of this book until I read how many people disliked it. Far from wanting to simply "prove" others were wrong, I began thinking about why others might not like this book and its message. First, it is somewhat legitimate to dislike anything one must read in high school. However, if you never get past that point, life isn't much worth living. If you never come back and read some of the things on your own, you just aren't much of a human being. Rant as one will against the unpleasantness of secondary educational methods, sooner or later, one ought to recognize that explaining value the wrong way isn't a denial of the concept. With that said, I still don't care for the heavy handedness of symbolism in, say, Billy Budd.

Second, I began to think about all the people today who run away from hit and run accidents, ostensibly for selfish reasons, and I tried to see if there was some sort of parallel with issues of honor and accountability and the apparent plethora of irresponsible behavior. While there may be some grain of truth to this, I think this book's message evades the modern mind on still another level.

This book is a bit heavy handed on the imagery also, beginning with a snotty group at a prep school. In a day when rich people appear somewhat vile to some, (perhaps because they must be forced to share their wealth with us,) perhaps a prep school doesn't serve as a good choice setting in which to begin. When I first read this book years ago, I recall feeling so alienated from the setting that I thought that whatever ills happened to anyone at this school, they all deserved it just because they were there. Unfortunately, all that feeling did was make me feel uncomfortably similar to Gene. I thought the Super Suicide Society was a bit silly too, perhaps an anachronism or even doing Hitler’s SS an extra letter for heavy symbolism. It was, at the same time, too juvenile and yet too replete with boyish bravado.

The two main characters are, nevertheless, interesting. I think that Gene is the kind of everyman with a touch more paranoia thrown in, suspecting that everyone must think pretty much like he does, even if it is done in secret. Finny (and how can anyone today admire someone named Phineas?) is the perfect antagonist. He is the one who can flaunt tradition but do so with such an open heart that he is automatically popular. From what I read about about John F. Kennedy, the two seem to have the same charisma, maybe even the same persona. Gene knows that if he tried half of what Finny did, he couldn't pull it off. The rest of us know it about ourselves too. This includes the elitist, Brinker Hadley. The book is worth reading just being able to watch people like Hadley squirm. Yet once again, perhaps we don't see these characterizations much any more in what has unfortunately become a PC society.

Further I thought that the underlying theme of the war doesn't work very well any longer either, perhaps society as a whole becoming so isolated from any concept of the necessity of war, individuals unwilling to sacrifice for any means beyond personal gain. When you are facing an impending great uncertainty, you tend to do things which negate that kind of looming doom, just like these boys did. That’s something which is uncomfortable in itself, but perhaps our era of irresponsibility tends to dissolve our fear by making such things less inevitable.

However the main reason I believe that this book doesn't really carry a strong message to the modern reader is beyond all the things I have yet considered: the difficulty with appreciating this book isn’t an itinerant selfishness, the desire to remain individual rather than a small part of the whole, nor is it about the inability to relate to prep school, inevitable deniability or even the heavy symbolism. I tend to think that the failure to recognize the importance of this book's message is our unwillingness to acknowledge in some very fundamental way, the pain we ultimately incur upon ourselves in life through the necessity of our actions. This book essentially pulls out our dirty laundry which we have hidden away, perhaps something we today brag about being natural and therefore no longer sinful. Perhaps it is our modern inability to acknowledge our living sin as having missed the mark in our daily lives.

I can certainly recall very easily my feeling justified in my actions when younger which purposefully hurt others only to acknowledge silently later that I was so very wrong. As I see it, that is what this book is about, not so much making the mistake, something irretrievably wrong, but learning to deal with the kind of repercussions which follow from our original loathsome behavior. I tend to think that this book might have been better titled, An Odious Wrong, A Separate Peace. Still, even had the author considered this, he knew that it was the conclusion which was the important part, the part which makes one a human being, being able to find a forgiveness of self rather than carrying the weight around forever. It is hard enough to face one’s mistakes.…and clearly this is an uncomfortable process for us, but it is a greater thing to be able to find a peace so that one can continue to not only exist but to live and prosper.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book484 followers
March 21, 2023

A Separate Peace is a coming-of-age story set in a boarding school in Massachusetts in 1942-43. When the story opens, Phineas and Gene are sixteen year old boys, enjoying the last summer of innocence and freedom before they cross the line into draft age and are forced to face involvement in war. The talk of war is everywhere, the senior class is being conditioned for entry into it, and the young men waver between a desire to dive in and a fear that they will be required to.

Finny and Gene are roommates and best of friends, but it is a complicated friendship, and Gene is particularly unsure of what the relationship really means. When comparing himself to Finny, he feels an insecurity, almost a fear, that he is the lesser of the two. There is an undercurrent of competition and jealousy between them, with suppressed feelings of both anger and guilt, and they constantly break the rules and push one another too far. Perhaps because they are different in temperament, there is too much they fail to understand about one another.

Self-awareness, guilt and denial are emotions all of us deal with at some time, but they may be especially common when we are young and finding our way. Finny and Gene must pass from an ideal, innocent world into one of brutal reality, and how they deal with that reveals their individual strength of character and even determines their ability to survive.

This is a second reading for me, the first some fifty years ago. I was glad to find that the book affected me in much the same way as I had remembered, heart-wrenching and sadly tragic. It retains its 5-star rating–a book about youth, but not only for the young.
Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews335 followers
January 29, 2022
This text is a novel that I think is best appreciated by the mature reader.
It is also undeniably a masterpiece!
There are no heroes or villains in this text, merely representations of the many shades of humanity, as personified by the inhabitants of an all boys private academy in New Hampshire in the early 1940s. Through the voice of the novel's narrator (Gene) Mr. Knowles leads the reader through the miasma that is male friendship, and maturation. Love is never 100% without "bad" baggage, and when humans realize that we are good and evil in one body it is the struggle that follows that determines our course in life. "A Separate Peace" is a beautiful and heart rendering depiction of that most important of internal struggles. Its closing lines remind us that it is in how we react to this knowledge that defines our future.
Much praise has been lauded on Mr. Knowles tight control of the novel's style and the praise is well deserved. The book is lyrical at times, and Knowles has a wonderful control of prose. Very rarely in this text does he use more words then are needed. In the current age of overwrought novels, this economic use of words shows the reader just how first-class great writing can be.
The ending of this novel forced me to mourn some of the characters, but is also forced me to mourn for bits of myself. That is not a negative thing, only a natural part of the progression of life. When fiction speaks to such simplistic truths it is a delight.
"A Separate Peace" is a piece of perfection, written about an imperfect entity. Us!
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,053 followers
April 17, 2013
All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way- if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.

The book cares who is watching. Gene knows you are watching. Move in for an embrace, over the shoulder a good old boy smile. You know how it is, how it was. There we all were...

Confession? I don't place a lot of value in confessionals. If you want to know a person, really know them, it means more to me to take note of what matters to them, what they don't choose to divulge.

Where was I?

I felt as if I were reading someone telling me about a book. The air was stale, the life sucked out. He wastes time foretelling of evil. If I time-traveled to fifteen years ago in Gene's past it might have felt like this. Doomed to witness the events over the shoulder of a person who wants you to believe what they want you to believe. He wastes time telling of wanting to go back. Did he wish it never happened for himself or for Phinny's sake? The self serving voice lies.

I think it was a mistake to tell the events of the story from Gene's will. The moral of the story, that you cannot forgive unless you can forgive yourself, is stated in the text. That's pretty unforgivable in my book to talk down to the reader this much. It is worse still in that it isn't earned. Everything is told, never happening, never felt. Gene doesn't have to face up to what he did, to know himself. It is given to him through another's acceptance. I didn't need Fowles to tell me that Phinny writes letters to all the king's men. I didn't need to be told that he denies there is a war because they won't accept him as a cripple. It is baffling to me that my edition brings up Fowles' William Faulkner award a few times. Faulkner didn't put it into his story that The Sound and the Fury wasn't about a slut who ruins the lives of her brothers. Sure, there are some seemingly heartless readers who take it as such. I love Faulkner for the qualities this book didn't possess. Faulkner trusts the reader. What about the story, what about knowing them, the life that allows to breathe? A Separate Peace doesn't breathe. It doesn't trust you.

There are qualities to types of confessionals that interest me. Someone will tell you what sounds like their whole life story as if there is no time. They take you by the hand. This is where I live. In my life it is this type of person who usually fucks me over after a couple of days. Someone will tell you what they consider to be important. I lived through that. Why are they telling you? Was it important you were a stranger, were they free?

Gene pushes Phineas, his gold star on the chart at the end of the day, off of a tree. His heart says do it. He doesn't know what is in his heart, not always. The ghost that repeats itself doesn't die the same death. What you think you would forgive if it was someone else who did it. Phineas is crippled. Maybe Phineas didn't want his follower to match his sports glory in the academic area. Maybe everything is as Gene says it is.

But Gene says that he feels sorry for Leper. Gene doesn't move fast enough to end the scene when he tells the school that Leper ran away from the army. Sure, Gene tells that he isn't like the average boy's academy bully. When A Separate Peace is best we get to hear Leper imply what Gene looked like when he was running with the boys. Hear Gene all for enlisting with Brinker and turning his face when Phinny doesn't like the idea. Give Brinker a nickname, what a joke. What a sissy britches. I was interested in what another character would have said about the events in their school. I was more interested in forgetting about what Gene said altogether and just watching what happened and deciding for myself. Almost, when Gene is called out on what really happened that day on the tree. I won't say fateful because I don't believe it was meant to happen. Perhaps on another day he wouldn't have wanted to stay on top. If Phinny had given him enough attention that day, made him feel special enough. Gene won't say what happened and we know that Brinker and Leper at least suspect what happens. We know that Gene brags about his clever turnaround in the smoking room to evade questions. Was this the life? Was it true that school and life was about being able to be the best without giving a shit about anything? I don't think the boy who scored lower on the most likely to succeed lists cared about looking good in a stupid yearbook photo if he was doing what he loved. Gene's confessional in A Separate Peace as this is what boys are like, this is what lies in their hearts. I don't feel it. I don't feel it just because the book tells me it is so.

I'm also perplexed why this is called a masterpiece when it is said right from the off Gene is telling about events from fifteen years past. Different chapters will contradict the previous one when shouldn't he have known this already? As it had all happened already?

My favorite part was when Leper runs away from the army because his life would be ruined with a discharge on grounds of insanity. He would never be hired for employment. This contradicts the rosy "And Stalin was great and Churchhill was great and Roosevelt was great" cheesey voice narrator from a film. I can just hear the middle-aged actor (the poor girl's Tom Hanks) narrating the events as the secondary actor from a CW tv show looks moony at the heartthrob rolling around the school grounds with his athletic body. Gene talked about his friend's body so much I was thinking I had wondered into a junior high school girl's lavatory. "You have such nice breasts!" "Shut up, you have a great butt. All the boys like your butt." I don't know anything more about those girls than they choose to subscribe to an off the surface world expectation. Blah blah blah all sixteen year old boys live the life. But what about everyone else? There were lots of boys in that school.

I didn't read A Separate Peace in high school because I was in the "dumb kid's" English class. I'm not sure if the book tells you stuff that isn't true because the author thought the readers were young and wouldn't understand unless he connected all of the dots? Or is Gene supposed to be this sociopathic and believes his audience to be suckers? But what for? The important thing, for me, about confessionals is why a person is telling you all of this to begin with. Do they want you to know them? What is being absolved if it as easy as a saint-like school chum forgiving you? I don't think you're a bad guy. Or you could live your life and just try to be human and not fuck anyone over any more than you have to. Openness is worth more to me than any confessional story about the bad thing you did or the bad thing that happened to you. That so much of everyone and everything in his life was based on the boy he thought was higher than him says more to me than the rest of it. That is what I think it would say if it didn't know I was watching. Because he's watching Phinny.

Confession? Confessions mean something to me if they are a means to relate. To be naked about what matters to you, if you care about who you are sharing it with. This book doesn't knows you are watching and it thinks it knows who you are and what you know.
Profile Image for Kimberly Dawn.
163 reviews
May 5, 2019
A close friendship becomes tragic when envy turns ugly and results in life-altering consequences.

Gene Forrester, the main character and narrator of the story, visits Devon, the boys prep school he attended as a teenager in New England.

Gene reflects upon his close friendship with Phineas, or “Finny” and the tragic events that took place at Devon during the summer and fall of wartime 1942.

Finny, a lovable character, is perfection personified as portrayed through Gene’s loving eyes. The loving friendship between the two young men is left open to interpretation.

A highly recommended classic coming of age story.
Profile Image for Burt.
272 reviews34 followers
November 23, 2007
Most people would list the Catcher In the Rye as the ultimate coming of age story, but I beg to differ. For me, my coming of age book was A Separate Peace. It was required reading - we were not given a choice on reading it. Unlike prior assigned reading books, I actually READ this one.

I wish I could remember more of it.

What I do remember was that I liked it. It's about a boy growing up at a prep school, making friendships and planning futures provided the war ends and that they aren't all drafted when they are of age. During the process the boy builds a friendship with someone much unlike him that gets him into troubles and hijinks and they have times where it is difficult between them, but they grow to be very close. Eventually, this friend goes in for some sort of surgical procedure, something that is supposed to be simple. And like that, he dies on the table of a freak complication. The boy is then forced to look into things beyond his limited scope and he must deal with the fallout of the death.

When I read this, I didn't know that something similar to this would happen to myself later. It's something that while not identical, it does mirror personal experience. It's a sad story, but one worth reading. It's on my shelf at present and I've been meaning to read it again to see if it still is as good as I remember it, but with all of these new books, it's hard to make time for one I've already read. Still, I give it high marks and a personal recommendation.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,966 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.