I have very mixed feelings about this novel. A large part of me remembers the first time I read this a few summers ago. I was working in the concession stand at the park, and it was one of those hot lazy days, so I spent almost my entire shift parked in front of the AC unit reading this novel. I remember loving it, and I am not sure why.
Now, after reading it for the second time, I am not sure how I feel. I suppose, on one hand, that this book was a big deal, and can be a big deal if you think about it in a certain way. I'm just not sure that the message and power of this book compares to the other 63 books I've read off my list so far (if that makes sense).
For those unfamiliar with the story, Gene and his roommate Phineas are in a New England boarding school for boys during WWII. Gene is a lonely, intellectual kind of boy. He studies and takes things far more seriously than Phineas. Phineas is an athlete and joker. Rooming together, they become friends.
Eventually Gene feels like there is competition between them and begins to pull away. A semi-tragic event happens and Gene must make amends with Phineas. It all spirals from there into eventual tragedy.
I get it. That whole boy rivalry thing. I don't understand it on some level, so I asked Matt about whether he competed with his friends. He said that its normal for men-folk to feel competitive, like a "look how macho I can be" kind of thing, but I don't get it. I don't think I was ever really like that.
But on another hand, I can see where the tragedy of this story is what drives it. A healthy young male in the prime of his life is hurt and will never what he once was. You can take it farther and compare it to the time period the story is set in. During all wars, not just WWII, young men were sent away and didn't come back the same. Something changed them, their lives were different and they were never the same person they once were. In that case you could almost view Gene and Phineas' story as an anti-war story.
"The war was and is a reality for me. I still instinctively live and think in its atmosphere," (40).
"When you are sixteen, adults are slightly impressed and almost intimidated by you. This is a puzzle, finally solved by the realization that they foresee your military future, fighting for them. You do not foresee it," (41).
I think that it is instead a story of change and growth. We all must go through significant moments of change and trial in our lives to become new, and hopefully better, individuals. We cannot contribute to society unless we adapt and change to the circumstances we find ourselves in. In the cases of Gene and Phineas, they suffer from more trials in a smaller period of time. Its just life and why this novel is often labeled as a "coming-of-age" novel.
I hope that all made sense. Since my feelings are mixed about how I felt about this, I'm not sure how to approach writing about them. I will say that if you haven't read this, it is worth a read. Even knowing what was going to happen in the end, I still found myself hooked.