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Many – maybe most –  of the works that have had a strong influence on me are ones that have fantasy and action elements.  I grew up watching Star Wars at every opportunity, and later Star Trek and a bunch of different superheros.  The works that do not fall into these categories, though, that sometimes are the most profound.  such is the impact I felt from A Separate Peace, by John Knowles.

The timing with which my high school English class tackled this book undoubtedly was part of the reason this book resonated with me.  The book is, among other things, about struggling with your place in the world.  Gene, the book’s protagonist, struggles with his best friend’s apparent superiority.  Phineas was more popular, more athletic, and perhaps smarter as well.  Gene’s jealousy and guilt over what jealousy drives him to do, is the driving force of the book. 

As a teenager reading this book, I was myself struggling with feeling’s of inferiority.  My best friend of the time seemed to my teenage self, more popular, athletic, and intelligent, leaving me to follow in his tracks.  I felt as Gene felt.   But the book helped me see that what I saw through my jealousy wasn’t necessarily true.

Looking at it now, though, it also points out something that new writers can sometimes overlook: that action and fantasy might make books exciting, but it won’t matter unless we care about the characters.  And if we do care about the characters, we don’t need a strange world, or powerful enemies to care about their plight.

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