Monday, August 27, 2012

Life: An Exploded Diagram

The U.S. cover
by Mal Peet
Candlewick | 2011

Clem is young and from the wrong side of the small British-town tracks in the 1960s. He falls for the rich girl who happens to be the daughter of his father's boss. Frankie and Clem keep it all a secret, sneaking around to hiding places in the woods and the environs of their town.

In the news is the Cuban Missile Crisis and what it might mean for England, still recovering in many ways from WWII. Interwoven with Clem and Frankie's story are chapters devoted to the history of President Kennedy's handling of Russia, Cuba, and the 13-day crisis.

The British cover
When Clem and Frankie decide to spend a day in a seaside town forty-five minutes away for a more serious rendezvous, something befalls them that changes the course of their lives forever. The rest of the novel unfolds, time and history with it, and the final pages find Clem in New York City on a universally fateful day in September.

This haunting tale is beautifully written and offers a commentary on history and life all rolled into one bittersweet YA novel. Peet's author's note is what really got me, though. After a caveat about his narrator's grasp on history and a short bibliography, he offers this final note:

"Finally: there are still approximately seven thousand nuclear warheads in existence. More than enough to blast the planet into a perpetual winter. I assume there are enough people who know where they all are. But we don't talk about them much anymore. We have other things on our minds."

Whoa. Yes.

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