Why I Love "A Separate Peace" So Much (...because I love it an awful lot)

"A Separate Peace" is a book written by John Knowles, and I first heard about it when reading the summer reading list for Sophomore English in 2015. My mom bought me the book, and I sat in the corner of my bedroom and read it in about two weeks, underlying quote after quote as I went. Little did I know that we would later read it again during the school year (because apparently no one reads the summer reading...), but I was happy to read it again anyway. 

As a quick synopsis, this book is set during World War II at an all boy's boarding school. It follows the story of Gene, someone who is definitely introverted and tries really hard, and his friendship with Phineas, someone who is friends with everyone and doesn't seem to try as hard but despite that is perfect at everything anyway. It was a bestseller for more than thirty years, and I'm not at all surprised. In fact, it happens to be one of my top five favorite books. 

I was sixteen when I read it the second time, so the quote that says "Sixteen is the key and crucial and natural age for a human being to be, and people of all other ages are ranged in an orderly manner ahead of and behind you as a harmonious setting for the sixteen-year-olds of this world," was very special to me at the time. When I decided to write this essay, I flipped through the book and was greeted by all the places where I'd underlined things that made me laugh ("...That Student Who in the Opinion of the Athletic Advisory Excels His Fellows in the Sportsmanlike Performance of Any Game Involving Bodily Contact."), to the things that made me think ("Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person 'the world today' or 'life' or 'reality' his will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past."). I really love this book, and yes, this essay will be full of quotes from it. 

When I was sixteen I was surrounded by people who seemed to excel at everything they did, seemingly without trying. In this sense, I saw myself as Gene (it helped that my middle name just so happens to be Jean...), and saw everyone else as Phineas. Now, you should know that after moving to a new place, I tried really hard to always find good things to say about people and not be jealous of them, but around the same time we were reading this book I began to have trouble with not being jealous of some of my best friends. I wouldn't say that this book is is something you should model your friendships after (actually, I'm saying please don't model your friendships after this book, but you should still read it if you haven't), but it served as a sort of comfort for me in the late months of 2015. Seeing a character that I could see so much of myself in go through exactly what I was struggling with helped immensely. And I think that's why I love reading so much. 

Reading helps me understand why I am the way I am. This book in particular is so important to me because it helped me not overcome my jealously, but come to terms with it in such a way that I was able to figure it out and talk to my friends about it. There are books that I've liked but wish I'd read at a different time in life because they probably would have helped me much more if only I'd read them earlier or later. And then there are those books that you read at exactly the right moment and that reach exactly the right part of you soul, and "A Separate Peace" is such a book. It starts off deep and gets deeper with every page. Whenever I am asked to recommend a book, I always say "To Kill A Mockingbird" first, but immediately follow with "A Separate Peace." If you haven't read it, do. It may not affect you as deeply as it did for me, but who knows. It might.