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This is a thin, quickly-read book that has one obvious appeal to Harry Potter fans: it is set in a boarding school. To be exact, a New England boys’ prep school, where the sons of the rich and powerful have gone for generations to prepare for college. Only these sons are preparing to go to war, as the novel is set during World War II.
A not-so-obvious reason this should resonate with Harry’s fans, is that it exposes the true nature of mankind– the good and the bad– concentrated on the painful, strenuous period known as adolescence. There are no evil wizards or escaped convicts threatening the boys of Devon School, however. The demons they face come from within.
Gene and Phineas are best friends and roommates. Gene is a top student, Phinny is a top athlete. Nevertheless they have a lot of fun together, much of it created by Phinny’s instinct for play, his natural leadership, and his all-around charm and goodness. Think Cedric Diggory, only without a broomstick.
But then, something blind and ignorant arises in Gene– something jealous and angry– and he strikes out at Phinny in a most terrible way. Then he has to live with what he has done, which isn’t made easy by his guilt, or Phinny’s continuing loyalty to him, or the sleuthing of another boy who wants to get to the bottom of what most people called a terrible accident.
I really don’t have the heart to tell you any more about the plot. I don’t want to spoil it for you. All I can add is that this is a book that will shatter your emotions and challenge your conscience. It is hauntingly beautiful, and achingly sad. And it has a sequel, sort of–Peace Breaks Out, which takes place at Devon School after the end of the War. And that too is a good book, but personally, I think A Separate Peace is the one you will find harder to forget.