Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. Read more...
Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. After all, the world teeters on the brink of war, and bombs could rain down any minute over the bleak English countryside--just as they did seventeen years ago as his mother, pregnant with him, tended her garden. This time, Clem may not survive. Told in cinematic style by acclaimed writer Mal Peet, this brilliant coming-of-age novel is a gripping family portrait that interweaves the stories of three generations and the terrifying crises that define them. With its urgent sense of history, sweeping emotion, and winning young narrator, Mal Peet's latest is an unforgettable, timely exploration of life during wartime.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-09-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Peet’s ambitious novel attempts to tie the story of two British teenagers’ ill-fated romance to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. At age 16, Clem Ackroyd, the intelligent son of working-class parents, falls hard for Frankie, the rich daughter of Clem’s father’s boss. Though the main thread involves Clem and Frankie’s increasingly frisky sexual behavior, Peet’s sweep is both parochial and vast, with attention paid to Ackroyd family genealogy and to tracing the post–WWII geopolitics that brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The history lessons, linking the showdown over Cuba with Clem’s urgent attempts to lose his virginity before the world is blown to smithereens, are an uneasy fit, and clarity suffers a bit from narration that hopscotches from Clem’s first-person account to a third-person voice. There are some sharply observed scenes involving Clem and his parents, though the dialogue is written in a regional British vernacular that readers may find difficult to parse. The denouement is heartbreaking, as the young lovers finally satisfy their longing but pay a horrifically high price. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
Love in the nuclear age
Life: An Exploded Diagram, the new novel from award-winning British author Mal Peet, is a reminder that labeling a work as “YA” (young adult) is often, well, arbitrary. Peet may put young people at the center of his fiction, but his work is so spectacular that it can—and should—be savored by readers of all ages.
This far-reaching, ambitious historical novel begins toward the close of World War II on the day Clem Ackroyd is born, after a German pilot flies a plane low over his mother’s house on March 9, 1945. By the time Clem, a good student who wants to go to art school, is a teenager, his father has gone to work for Gerard Mortimer, whose family owns Bratton Manor. Picking strawberries on the Mortimer farm one summer, Clem finds himself attracted to the Mortimer daughter, Frankie, even though, as Clem’s friend Goz puts it, “She Mortimer You Ackroyd.” Clem and Frankie begin meeting secretly. But just as readers might be expecting a traditional Romeo and Juliet crisis to unfold, Peet steps back from his canvas to paint a compelling picture of the historical landscape that envelops the young lovers—in this case, the Cuban missile crisis.
The random violence of war and terrorism threads through this compelling novel; but Peet weaves it in so seamlessly and relentlessly that when the crisis does come for Clem and Frankie, it is unexpected and devastating. It is not until decades later, when chance and violence once again play a part in their lives, that we fully begin to understand the depth of their connection.
If you’d like to give a young person this novel, do yourself a favor: Read it first!