four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
By: 
mal peet
user_rating: 
0

An Exploded Diagram

A-LifeBritish Young Adult author Mal Peet won the Carnegie Medal for his story of the Dutch Resistance during World War II, Tamar (2005), and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for his inspired retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, Exposure (2008).

The Story: In the last days of World War II, a Nazi pilot swoops down over Norfolk housewife Ruth Ackroyd as she works in her garden, and Ruth barely makes it back to the house before going into premature labor with her son Clem. A brooding boy with a talent for drawing, Clem wins a scholarship to an exclusive school, but his working-class roots may thwart his blossoming romance with rebellious and beautiful Francoise "Frankie" Mortimer, the daughter of his father's employer. As tensions mount between Kennedy and Khrushchev over Cuba in 1962, the young lovers' lives will be shaped--and imperiled--by the raging Cold War.
Candlewick. 416 pages. $17.99. ISBN: 9780763652272

Telegraph (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars"Concerning the explosive forbidden love between the narrator, Clem, a labourer's son, and the upper-class Frankie, this is a superbly poignant examination of adolescence set against the menacing backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which acts brilliantly as a metaphor for the uncertainties of teenage life. Elegantly written, heartfelt and convincing, it stands as one of the best novels of the year--and not just for teenagers." Philip Womack

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars"Life: An Exploded Diagram is a real book, a rare treat for thoughtful readers of any age. Read it yourself. Then, if you can think of a young person with the wit to appreciate it, pass it along." Meg Rosoff

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars"A big welcome therefore to Mal Peet's inelegantly titled but absorbing novel Life: An Exploded Diagram. Even though readers know that the missile-bearing Soviet ships will eventually turn back, the tension here is still electrifying, made more so by Peet's habit of quoting verbatim from some of the hair-raising tactical advice actually proffered in White House meetings at the time." Nicholas Tucker

Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 4 of 5 Stars"Set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, this novel weaves together a fascinating plot of love, class, and family relations. ... Well-developed characters and stunning plot twists make this work of historical fiction a memorable read." Yana V. Rodgers

Voya 4 of 5 Stars"[A] remarkable work of historical fiction. ... Somehow, it all comes together at the end." Jane Harper

Critical Summary

Every page of this "subtle, minutely observed novel with a huge heart and a bold historical sweep" (Guardian) shines with Peet's storytelling skill and sly humor. He toys with chronology and perspective, periodically drawing back from Clem's story to zoom in on a heated discussion in the White House or a command given aboard a Soviet submarine, but, time and again, the critics were astonished by his ability to believably weave these disparate threads together. Also surprising is Peet's talent for wringing tension from these well-known events, his evocative prose bringing the era and its characters vividly to life. An "inelegantly titled but absorbing novel" (Independent), Life: An Exploded Diagram will surely appeal to adults as well as older teens.