This was one of the books I would never have known about if it wasn’t for Goodreads. I loved A Separate Peace and I didn’t realize there was a sequel until I added it on Goodreads and saw Knowles’ other books. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages and I’m so glad I finally have.
Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles
Summary from Goodreads:
In the uneasy peace after World War II, the senior year at Devan School for Boys in New Hampshire changes from a time of friendship into a stunning drama of tragic betrayal.
Knowles has a way of writing a book about schoolboys that is so much more than a book about schoolboys. Instead of dealing with being prepared for war and what war really means, we have boys dealing with an absence of war. They were mentally prepared to become soldiers and deal with fighting and death when they graduated and suddenly, their lives are peaceful again. I’d never considered the impact of an armistice on the boys who were gearing up to fight. I liked that Knowles picked a lesser-discussed group to focus on in this novel.
His characters were amazing. Wexford was a great mix of cunning, smart, and ambitious. I liked watching him play with the minds of the students around him because he was so fun to hate. I liked Tug and Nick a lot as well. Their relationship was fun for Knowles to play with, I’m sure. I liked how Nick idolized Tug but at the same time, I had more respect for Nick because he was an independent thinker whereas Tug followed his friends. Pete was the straight man, but he was no less enjoyable for that. The companion novel (because this isn’t much of a sequel) did a great job of living up to my expectation of great characters.
I liked Wexford best. I didn’t find his motivation completely believable, but he was explained enough to be compelling. He was very smart and as Pete says at the end, he’ll probably end up in a high and influential position which is completely terrifying. He was so fun to hate and at the same time, I almost wanted to root for him. Well, until the end was revealed. Then I hated him again.
One of the more compelling parts of the novel was that the boys seemed so different from me. I couldn’t imagine growing up, priming myself to be a soldier to have it all wiped clean. The title is very fitting. Peace has come over Devon as maliciously as war. I could most relate to Pete because he was the observer. He was powerless to stop the anger seething around him and I think it scared him.
I liked the ski trips. At first, I was afraid someone was going to die in a skiing accident and I thought that would be very unfitting to the theme of the book, but when I realized what Knowles was going to do with the trip, I was impressed. He used the trips as a critical plot point. I thought the circumstances of their skiing were really fun, too. I liked that they stayed in barns and carried all the food themselves, walking up the mountain and sleeping in a shack. It makes skiing seem much more dangerous and rugged than it does today.
I thought Hochschwender got a bad reputation in the book and that bothered me. At one point, I thought he was playing everyone else by writing the editorial for the school newspaper and I wish that had gone somewhere more. I think he was up to something and I would have liked to see him go head-to-head with Wexford a bit more. I think he could have stood a good chance but got cut out too soon.
It’s hard for me to pick out a specific theme for this book. The problem these boys have seems to be an outlet for their aggression. They are lacking someone to direct their anger toward so they are picking on each other. There was no war to fight in so they created one. More than anything, I think this book is speaking about those we didn’t consider in the aftermath of the war. The veterans came home as heroes, but the boys that never left had no reason to be applauded. Pete can’t figure out why they wanted to fight. He knew how dangerous and miserable being a soldier could be, but these boys would hear none of it.
Writer’s Takeaway: The two things that I loved most about this book were the complex and well-developed characters and the subject. Having a unique subject, like those boys who missed the war, makes for a very interesting book. I’ve never read anything else about these boys. Having unique and defined characters like Knowles wrote makes the story so much richer. There was a lot to enjoy in this book by such an iconic writer.
I really enjoyed the book and I’d recommend it to those who were fans of A Separate Peace. Four out of Five Stars.
Until next time, write on.
Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles | Pages Unbound Reviews