Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.
Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2011.

Peet gives a sketch of four generations in Norfolk, England. Older history is focused on the women, up until Clem's parents, World War II and beyond. There is just a glimpse of the great-grandmother, and Clem's mother has always lived with his grandmother. His father, a mechanic in the war, must adapt his life to suit the grandmother, who stubbornly keeps to her own ideas.

The story starts with an explosive act. A plane flown into their home at the end of the war precipitates the birth of Clem. There are two more explosions that wrench Clem's life. One devastates his teenage plans. The other may drag him back to Norfolk after he has escaped.

The core of the story is Clem's coming of age and his relationship with a wealthy, local farmer's daughter (both families having connections through the generations). They sneak around, as their relationship would not be permitted. The developments occur simultaneously with the Cuban missile crisis, so you know something is imminent. It works well metaphorically as well.


The buildup for the setting is large in scope, history and peripheral characters, and part of what I like about the book. It is unusual to connect that many periods, but it works. The characters are what I enjoyed most. Unfortunately, the two I like best (Clem's dad and Clem's friend Goz) are bit parts. Social commentary is an aspect of the book. To read a second time focusing on that might be interesting. The Cuban part, though oddly stitched in, is an interesting example of the times and propels the story forward. It's a good read, but Tamar made more of an impression.

related-family life, war, Norfolk, England, 20th century, Great Britain, social classes, coming of age, 1960s, Cuban missile crisis
RL=mature YA-adult

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