Friday, November 2, 2012

Life: An Exploded Diagram

By Mal Peet
3.5 / 5 Gnomes
Life: An Exploded Diagram Book Trailer
A review in 10 words or less: "Baby, we're about to get blown up, do ya wanna..."

Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. After all, the world teeters on the brink of war, and bombs could rain down any minute over the bleak English countryside--just as they did seventeen years ago as his mother, pregnant with him, tended her garden. This time, Clem may not survive. Told in cinematic style by acclaimed writer Mal Peet, this brilliant coming-of-age novel is a gripping family portrait that interweaves the stories of three generations and the terrifying crises that de? ne them. With its urgent sense of history, sweeping emotion, and winning young narrator, Mal Peet's latest is an unforgettable, timely exploration of life during wartime.

~Amazon Description~

The very cool thing about book clubs is that sometimes they introduce you to a book or author that you wouldn't naturally gravitate toward yourself.  The ladies at do an excellent job of mixing up the book club titles so you're reading a little bit of everything.  This month we got to tackle historical fiction from a truly unique author.

The Awesome

1) Historical fiction only really comes to life when you put it in the context of a character's life.  If you're just spewing historical facts, it can seem disjointed and awkward.  Author Mal Peet puts the Cuban Missile Crisis in the context of two teenagers falling in love.  In many ways, the two parallel beautifully: the discovery of missiles in Cuba and the discovery of new love; the climax of nuclear threats and the (sorry about this...) climax of teenage lust;  and finally, the disarming of aggression and the disarming of a relationship.  (Sidenote: As I mused about the book after finishing, I started wondering whether or not Clem and Frankie would have ended up where they did if the threat of eminent doom wasn't looming over their heads...and then I started thinking about this line from the movie Speed and I had a good chuckle.)
Jack: I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
: OK. We'll have to base it on sex then.
: Whatever you say, ma'am. 

2) I spent most of the book thinking it was a memoir.  Only when I came to terms with the fact that Mal Peet was not Clem Ackroyd did I truly respect how brilliantly the author writes the narrative.  Clem's perspective on his family, the surrounding events, and his growing relationship with Frankie are personal and witty.

The Not So Awesome

1) So there's a lot of historical context, a lot of family background before you ever get to Clem and Frankie, and a lot of details about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I kind of felt like I spent most of the book waiting for the book to start.  Does that make sense?  And even though I was rooting for Clem and Frankie to find a way to be together, I never really got attached to them.  I felt like I learned a whole lot about Clem's parents, but not so much about Clem and even less about Frankie.

That's really my only complaint.  Mal Peet is an amazing writer.  He has a unique voice that I would definitely like to visit again, but the book didn't WOW me in any way.  It was good, and I'm glad I got to read it, but my feelings kind of end there.  Life: An Exploded Diagram would probably be a hard sell to teens, but it would be worth the effort!

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