|Life : an exploded diagram|
Author: Peet, Mal
In 1960s Norfolk, England, Clem from the working class falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy farmer in this tale flashing back through three generations.
Download a Teacher's Guide
|Accelerated Reader Information:|
Interest Level: UG
Reading Level: 5.60
Points: 14.0 Quiz: 147665
|Reading Counts Information:|
Interest Level: 9-12
Reading Level: 5.40
Points: 21.0 Quiz: 55753
Common Core Standards
Grade 8 → Reading → RL Literature → 8.RL Key Ideas & Details
School Library Journal (+) (00/10/11)
Booklist (+) (09/15/11)
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (00/11/11)
The Hornbook (+) (00/11/11)
Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 09/15/2011 *Starred Review* Peet’s arresting new novel begins in the destruction of WWII and ends in the explosive devastation of 9/11. In between, young Clem and his girlfriend, Frankie, find themselves de facto combatants in another conflict: England’s class war. Frankie, a child of privilege, is the daughter of the wealthy landowner for whom Clem’s father works. Peet breathes new life into this old story with the urgency of the two teens’ attraction for each other and their terrible need for secrecy. In a separate plotline, the Cuban missile crisis is about to boil over, and in a bold move, Peet takes readers across the Atlantic and into the White House, making President Kennedy and his staff characters in the novel. Peet writes with a white hot fury at the idiocy of both America and Russia, and the political story is as beautifully written as that of Clem and Frankie. As he did in Tamar (2007), Peet again defies the rules of YA fiction. Many of his major characters are adults; in fact, the story is told in retrospect by an adult Clem. Without one iota of sentimentality, Peet creates an explosive world where love is frowned upon and “the past has bloody teeth and bad breath.” It is a world that demands deep examination and thought, and Peet has done a splendid job of creating it. - Copyright 2011 Booklist.
School Library Journal - 10/01/2011 Gr 9 Up—Peet's brilliant, ambitious novel bridges the years between World War II and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, but at its heart is a star-crossed affair set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The titular life is that of 17-year-old Clem Ackroyd, a working-class boy living in British government-assisted housing. The object of his lust, 16-year-old Frankie Mortimer, resides in ritzy Bratton Manor. Despite their class differences, Clem and Frankie launch a torrid (and top secret) romance, engaging in some eyeball-melting make-out/groping sessions wherever and whenever possible. As the threat of nuclear annihilation grows, Peet effectively juxtaposes the tension surrounding Cuba with the increasingly sexual relationship between the lovers: "I absolutely refuse to die a virgin," bemoans Frankie at one point. Peet's immediate writing style brims with fine detail, from the "cigarette and strawberry juice" tastes of the couple's first kiss to Frankie's train compartment that "smelled of fart and smoke." While much of the narrative consists of Clem's point of view, an omniscient narrator occasionally takes readers into the minds of Frankie and several villagers, and into the respective war rooms of the U.S. and Russia. The horrific ramifications of war are implicitly stated, but not in a heavy-handed way. Recommend this memorable novel to mature teen readers, and if you can wrest away a copy, read it yourself.—Sam Bloom, Groesbeck Branch Library, Cincinnati, OH - Copyright 2011 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Bulletin for the Center... - 11/01/2011 Clem Ackroyd’s grandmother was widowed in World War I, and his mother, a World War II war bride, gave birth to Clem during a bombing raid; he himself weathered adolescence, and nearly lost his life, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s therefore no surprise that Clem would view war as a unifying theme of his existence. Looking back from his current vantage point as a successful adult artist, though, Clem is less interested in the composite picture than its individual elements-the subtitular exploded diagram-and as he reviews the long path toward the single, critical moment on which, at seventeen, his entire life pivoted, he reflects with often bitter irony on the causes, correlations, and coincidences that seem to govern his fate. If this all sounds very philosophical and adult-oriented, well, it is, particularly the family backstory that’s vital in understanding Clem’s personal tale. But his single-minded teenage pursuit of the beautiful, wealthy Frankie Mortimer, daughter of his father’s employer, is at the vortex of the novel, and it will certainly resonate with any young adult reader who has ever planned, agonized, or obsessed over his/her own sexual initiation. That Clem and Frankie’s one and only encounter culminates in a tragedy of sorts is paradoxically both random and inevitable, and readers who try without success to nail down how or whether history plays a role in our little lives will probably share Clem’s conclusion that “history is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road.” Cold War literature seems to be on a strong trend, and Peet’s provocative offering should prove an important contribution to the theme. EB - Copyright 2011 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.