Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Review     A Separate Peace by John Knowles

What’s it about?    It’s about the coming-of-age of a teenage boy attending a prep school in New England in 1942 -43, during WWII.    It’s about friendship, cause and effect, guilt and forgiveness, and just trying to make sense of everything.  

Is it well-written?   Oh yes!    At first, I was thinking the author was a little wordy, but as the story gets going, I understood the style and how even the wordiness gave it weight and substance and even a slight hesitance.    For a first novel, and one that was written before I was born, it is still fresh and moving and impressive. 

Care, why are you listing sets of three words with ‘and’ in between?   I don’t know.

Are you still battling the missing moving cursor issue?   yep…  editing this is a chore.  whine whine whine…

Why do you think this is on so many banned book lists?   I haven’t a clue.    Language wasn’t offensive, the sexual undertones that it has been accused of were either absent, negligible or I probably just missed them; the themes seem appropriate for teenagers to adults.   Of course, kids these days hear and speak horrible language; they seem to know way more than I did at 16 and will probably find this book mild.   I still think they will appreciate it and could find it quite meaningful.    It is a book offering many discussionables.   

Why do you say that?   Oh, goodness, now I’m on the spot and feeling self-conscious again.    I related to the internal struggles of the main character, Gene, who attempted to understand his relationship, the jealousy within his friendship with Finny.    His wrestling with right and wrong.    All of these kids were adjusting to knowing themselves in context with their very near futures of being involved with World War Two.

How many stars are you giving this?   Five out of five because I really can’t find anything to criticize.    A moving book, it really captured the angst of youth, it transported me to a New England prep school during WW2;   I had no idea I would be going there when I began reading this.     Imagery is excellent, mood is somber, the characters are real.   


Did this book make you cry?      YES.   and after sitting quietly with the book upon reading the last page, oh say, for just a few minutes;  I immediately started again from the first page so I could read again the thoughts of the narrator fifteen years later and book end it with how I felt from the beginning.

Did you take notes or write down vocab words?   Nope, not this time.   I only turned down page corners and didn’t reference what or why.     However, going back to those pages now is proving to be a delight.     Knowles is very descriptive.   Enjoy these two passages about weather:

Not long afterward, early even for New Hampshire, snow came.  It came theatrically, late one afternoon;  I looked up from my desk and saw that suddenly there were big flakes twirling down into the quadrangle, settling on the carefully pruned shrubbery bordering the crosswalks, the three elms still holding many of their leaves, the still-green lawns.  They gathered there thicker by the minute, like noiseless invaders conquering because they took possession so gently.  I watched them whirl past my window – don’t take this seriously, the playful way they fell seemed to imply, this little show, this harmless trick.

Winter’s occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature;  all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped and now winter itself, an old, corrupt tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the desolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch;  sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins itself to withdraw from the ruined country side.

Or how about that feeling upon exhaustion of a good workout, when you get that second wind?   Me, I’ve never gotten to this point, truthfully, but now I can imagine it!

Then, for no reason at all, I felt magnificent.  It was as though my body until that instant had simply been lazy, as though the aches and exhaustion were all imagined, created from nothing in order to keep me from truly exerting myself.  Now my body seemed at last to say, “Well, if you must have it, here!”  and an accession of strength came flooding through me.  Buoyed up, I forgot my usual feeling of routine self-pity when working out, I lost myself, oppressed mind along with aching body; all entanglements were shed, I broke into the clear.

And, finally, a quote suggesting universal truth.

Because 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.


I read this for the ongoing Chartroose Challenge.  First published in 1959.  204 pages.    I have the 2004 Made for TV version in my Netflix Queue;  according to the book jacket, Showtime has this in the works but is giving no information. 

Please link if you have reviewed this – I found many many references to Banned Book Lists within the Weekly Geek community, otherwise, I can share these:

Books 4 Breakfast Blogspot – Review March 2007

Softdrink mentions that she read this as required reading and thus now knows how to spell ‘separate’.

8 thoughts on “Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

  1. Hooray, hooray, you liked it! I was scared that you’d never speak to me again!

    I related to Finney as well. His life was totally ruined forever because of his actions (or inactions). The guilt and the sorrow would surely have overwhelmed me if I had been in his position. I really don’t know how he could continue functioning after what he did.

    Do you mean Gene here, right? not Finney…

    Hey, now that I’m back, I’m going to send a surprise. I’ll stick it in the mail this afternoon!

    Goodie Goodie! I’m excited to see what you’ve selected.

  2. This one sounds fascinating. Plus, being a banned book adds some intrigue!

    It is a good read. I so enjoy mixing it up and reading different stuff. I recommend this.

  3. Unfortunately, that’s all I remember about this book! What a shame.

    Read it again!? I know, too many books, too little time… I wonder if I would have liked it as much if I was 16 when I read it.

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