Another teen male coming of age story… so who cares? Actually, John Knowles “A Separate Piece” deserves its spot as a classic. Knowles unrestrained emotion combined with his clement yet dense descriptions create a truly moving story of adolescence.
Knowles writing has a very slow burning affect which allows for him to really indulge in imagery and explore Genes(our protagonist and narrator) thoughts. Set in a New England boarding school, there is a lot of scenic descriptions throughout. These descriptions are quite beautiful to read- “in which the snow, white almost to blueness, lay like a soft comforter over the hills, and birches and pines indestructibly held their ground.” (132). We become teleported to where Gene is, and furthermore, become induced emotionally by the weather just as Gene is.
Another aspect furthered by the vivid descriptions is Knowles melancholy and quiet tone throughout. This matches the somber tone of the story, which in turn stresses the sadness in the story. His quiet tone almost has a numbing, or indifferent affect on the reader- which is exactly how the boys feel in response to the war. This deliberate tone to match and lay importance to certain emotions in this novel is truly amazing to read. Every sentence is not only profound in description but emotion as well.
Being a coming of age story, there are so many messages and teachings to impact. There are messages about friendship, finding oneself, and also larger questions about the war and what it really means. The main idea that resonated with me was Knowles wanting us to be ok with finding our “separate” selves. Especially as a teenager, we often shun part of selves to fit in. Wether it be turning away from things you find important to find things more “popular” or joining a war as part of some obligation, we often do things we don’t necessarily want because we feel that would be judged otherwise. Furthermore, there is a sense of comfort found in being part of something bigger. However, Knowles doesn’t want that to happen. We shouldn’t be afraid to be separated from anyone or thing, especially if it doesn’t feel right in our hearts. Through prioritizing finding our “separate” selves, we can find true fulfillment.
In conclusion, this book is truly a masterpiece. From it’s deep emotional impact to its beautiful writing, it has become one of my favorite coming of age stories. I highly recommend it to anyone.