One of the great coming-of-age tales, A Separate Peace is also one of the darker novels assigned to teenagers. The plot revolves around two roommates at Devon, a New England boarding school, during the summer and winter of 1942. The narrator, Gene, an introverted, studious Southerner, recalls his relationship with his best friend Phineas, known as “Finny,” a charismatic, gregarious athlete. Over the course of the summer, Gene becomes envious of Finny’s graceful, easy demeanor and takes part in an accident that ends Finny’s athletic career. During the winter, as the country descends into World War II, the boys of Devon wage their own battles against each other to determine whether Gene intentionally harmed Finny. The novel chronicles the boys’ maturation as the war encroaches further and further into their lives. While Knowles’ tale of the journey from innocence to experience has been described as depressing, his capture of youthful emotion, surprising maturity and reactions to life’s great tragedies make it a must-read during those awkward teenage years.
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