Life: An Exploded Diagram
By Mal Peet, read by Simon Vance
Published 2013 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio
Clem, working-class boy with not much thought for the future, has happened to fall in love with Frankie, wealthy landowner's daughter with big dreams. Obviously, they must keep their love a secret. Little do they know that world-changing events on the tiny island of Cuba will have a direct impact on their lives.
I downloaded the audio of this last summer - it was a book I'd heard good things about but had never really bothered to look into. I wish I had not waited.
Well, maybe I shouldn't say that. My love of historical fiction has really only blossomed in the last few years, so perhaps if I had come to this book earlier in life, I would not have loved it as I did. Maybe it is for the best that I didn't bother with this book until now, because love it, I did.
I completely fell in love with this book from the first sentence. I'm not sure I'll be able to articulate exactly why I loved it, but I'll try. First and foremost, I loved the structure of this book. I loved that Peet broke the story into three parts; it gave the story an epic feel that I think worked very well for what is essentially a star-crossed lovers tale. I was absolutely riveted by part one, learning the story of Clem's family and the circumstances that led to his existence. It is, like the entirety of the book, set against the backdrop of world events. It seems that Peet is trying to say something about history - yes, you may know while you're living it that the world will not soon forget the Great War, but you also know that you won't forget the first girl you loved or your first kiss or the first time you lost someone you loved. Who's to say what's more important?
Part two focuses on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and is extremely informative. Despite my love of historical fiction, I don't really know a lot of history, and I think Peet does an entertaining and concise job of explaining this strange series of events to an audience that probably doesn't know terribly much about it. It helped me understand in a way that I hadn't before.
And part three is where it all comes together and then falls apart (within the story's confines, I mean). Despite taking so much time to really introduce the characters, I was charmed by them and felt as if I knew Clem and Frankie. I rooted for their romance, though I'm not sure why I should have. I wanted them to succeed and overcome the odds. I loved the very particular world I lived in while reading this book, an experience enhanced by listening to the audio. I was completely immersed in the lovely accents of Norfolk and the personalities of the people who lived there at that time in history. Peet did an admirable job creating a believable setting with this novel.
And the writing is simply lovely. I've said before how much I hate when I feel as if a book or author is writing down to their audience - this book is an example of the reason why I hate that. Peet never dumbs things down for his audience and the writing is consistently complex and lyrical. Additionally, though this features an adult narrator, it still feels very much like a teen novel, something that is not always easy to pull off.
In the end, I simply adored this book and am eager to read some of Peet's other work, in hopes that I will find another new favorite.