Peace Breaks Out, John Knowles (1981)

Peacebreaksout

 

But no men got killed by the enemy, not one, on United States soil…They never got here. Do you realize what that saved the American psyche from? Think how we would have felt if we’d seen Germans parading down Fifth Avenue in New York, locking up President Roosevelt, pasting up orders on buildings telling what time we had to be home, what we couldn’t read, how much we’d be allowed to eat, if anything…What if you’d seen your house blow up, with your mother inside, and your baby sister, and your little dog.

 

This is a sequel to the young adult classic, A Separate Peace published in 1959, although it is a stand-alone book and does not require any knowledge of the first book.

The story takes place at Devon School, a prep school for boys in New Hampshire, just after WWII. The war factors into both books with profound effects on the character and aspirations of the boys. In A Separate Peace military service was inevitable due to the draft and affected how the boys interacted with each other and themselves, as well as their plans for the future. In Peace Breaks Out, the graduating class is the first in many years where the young men can look forward to a ’normal’ future. But they feel cheated that they aren’t going to be able to ‘do their part’ in fighting the bad guys ‘over there,’ so instead, they fight them at school.

The school becomes a microcosm of the fear the larger world feels in the aftermath of the war over Russian domination and Nazi sympathy. A cabal develops among the boys led by the editor of the school newspaper, Wexford, who plot against German apologist Hochschwender with disastrous results.

Pete Hallam, war hero and recent alum, who has come back to Devon school to teach history and physical education sees what is happening and tries to intervene. But suspicions on both sides are impossible to break through. When a stained glass window honoring the students who fought and died in the war is broken, the damage Wexford has done to Hochschwender’s character has dire consequences.

Knowles has a gift for enfolding the reader into the life of the school through seasonal changes which dictate the rhythm and activities of the boys. I found this to be true in the first book as well. Winter especially, when it is brutally cold gives the boys little time for physical activities, but a lot of time for scheming and plotting. And like the boys in this boarding school who are only able to leave with permission, we also are forced to stay and grapple with their fear, anger and suspicion of each other.

While there are some weak plot lines, Knowles has a gift for creating memorable characters and as in the first book, that aspect is strong in the second.

**********

My Edition:
Title: Peace Breaks Out
Author: John Knowles
Publisher: Bantam
Device: Mass market paperback
Year: 1981
Pages: 178

Challenges: TBR

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4 thoughts on “Peace Breaks Out, John Knowles (1981)

  1. Having been educated in an all-boys school and been coerced into joining the combined cadet force, hating every moment of it and hoping to forget the experience, I’m in two minds about seeking this out, Laurie. Somehow I think if I come across it I may give it a chance — if only to exorcise the demons — and compare experiences. A thoughtful review, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After my recent reread of A Separate Peace, which I did not enjoy as a teen but found beautifully written and moving as an adult, I’m much more likely to seek this one out. It sounds like a good explorations of the tensions of that era – which still play into our own in many ways.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. This might hit a little close to home, Chris, although I think in the right hands a good teacher could use it as a teaching tool. Shades of Lord of the Flies haunt the story and it’s troubling that this still occurs. 😦

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