A Separate Peace is a classic: and for good measure. It is a timeless rendition of a story in adolescence – set at a time when the rest of the world is busy waging the Second World War. The narrative is set in a boarding school in New England in the early days of the Second World War.
The protagonist, Gene, is a lonely and simple introvert. Phineas, his friend, is handsome daredevil who loves adventure. Gene comes from the South, and attends an exclusive New Hampshire prep school, the Devon Preparatory School. He meets New Englander from Boston, Phineas. In the extroverted and bashful style that he has, Phineas chooses Gene as his friend – and the introvert is soon pulled into a wider world of glamour, adventure and action.
To Gene, going to school with boys from New England – the rather privileged lot that has had exposure to proper schooling, finds himself facing the insecurities that brings to someone like him, who hasn’t had such exposure. He then begins to work hard at his academics, and then, out of nowhere, Phineas and his antics distract him.
Phineas is every bit the leader: he is sure that he can persuade anyone to not only do something, but also make them buy into doing it to the point that they believe in it. One product of this thinking on his part culminated in convincing his friends to follow him by climbing onto a slender branch of a tree, and then jumping from there into the lake that it overlooks.
The game goes on, until the tectonic plates of the relationship between Gene and Phineas shift. Gene begins to think that Phineas is trying to distract him from studying, and that pushes the scales of friendship out of balance. What Phineas has in athletics, Gene has in academics – and Gene wants to feel equal and deserving of and in the friendship. Phineas calls Gene one day, to attend another session marking the rite of passage over the river. Gene goes, but he is not exactly at his happiest.
What happens at that point in time changes these boys and their world completely. The story changes – and the trajectory takes the boys to see that they really are not who they thought themselves to be. They become different people to themselves, and a friendship of a lifetime suddenly has an expiry date.
And yet, there is A Separate Peace.