Life: An Exploded Diagram

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Overview

Clem, a working-class boy living in government-assisted housing, and Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, must keep their relationship secret. If it’s discovered, their world will be blown apart.

But unknown to them, President John F. Kennedy and the Russian leader, Nikita Khruschev, are shaping up to do just that — blow the world apart - as the two leaders fight over a small island in the Caribbean Sea, leading up to the events that ...

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Life: An Exploded Diagram

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Overview

Clem, a working-class boy living in government-assisted housing, and Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, must keep their relationship secret. If it’s discovered, their world will be blown apart.

But unknown to them, President John F. Kennedy and the Russian leader, Nikita Khruschev, are shaping up to do just that — blow the world apart - as the two leaders fight over a small island in the Caribbean Sea, leading up to the events that will later be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For Frankie and Clem, “time, like everything else, is against them.”

In his most brilliant and ambitious novel yet, Mal Peet portrays the shattering power of love and the ricocheting effect of war through generations.

“Witty, super-smart, heartbreakingly generous, it’s so good, you almost want to keep it a secret.” — Patrick Ness, author of the award-winning Chaos Walking series

“Life: An Exploded Diagram is Mal Peet’s finest work to date, by turns hysterically funny, sad, poignant, bitter, and rude, but always with that unfakeable sense of deep truth.” — Anthony McGowan, author of The Knife That Killed Me

“A new novel by Mal Peet is always something to be eagerly anticipated: finely drawn characters, ambitious storytelling, a broad historical canvas, piercing social critique — and now, much more than in previous novels, a delightfully irreverent streak of humor.” — Jonathan Hunt, blogger for School Library Journal’s Heavy Medal blog

“An astonishingly engaging, wonderful, un-put-downable book. His gorgeous writing makes one reread sentences over and over again for the pure joy of experiencing the language.” — Carol Stoltz, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

A 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Fiction Honor Book

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 9 Up—Mal Peet's memorable novel (Candlewick, 2011) juxtaposes first love between Clem, from a working class family, and Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy British landowner, against the fragility of world peace during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite their differences, they begin to explore all that young love has to offer. The novel involves three generations for whom war had a defining presence. Clem's grandmother is a World War I widow and his Mum married his Dad while he was serving in World War II. Now, Clem and Frankie's relationship is backlit with the threat of another war. Clem and Frankie finally consummate their love and, when returning to their respective homes, happen upon a land mine. They are hurt but survive, and their romance goes the way of most first loves. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Clem, who is living in Manhattan, hears from Frankie once again. Simon Vance does a superb job of voicing the variety of British dialects. His somewhat matter-of-fact reading mirrors the straightforward personality of Clem as he matures. Teens will enjoy the romantic elements of this coming-of-age novel and will gain an understanding of how love and war intersects in all of our lives.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Publishers Weekly
Peet’s ambitious novel attempts to tie the story of two British teenagers’ ill-fated romance to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. At age 16, Clem Ackroyd, the intelligent son of working-class parents, falls hard for Frankie, the rich daughter of Clem’s father’s boss. Though the main thread involves Clem and Frankie’s increasingly frisky sexual behavior, Peet’s sweep is both parochial and vast, with attention paid to Ackroyd family genealogy and to tracing the post–WWII geopolitics that brought the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The history lessons, linking the showdown over Cuba with Clem’s urgent attempts to lose his virginity before the world is blown to smithereens, are an uneasy fit, and clarity suffers a bit from narration that hopscotches from Clem’s first-person account to a third-person voice. There are some sharply observed scenes involving Clem and his parents, though the dialogue is written in a regional British vernacular that readers may find difficult to parse. The denouement is heartbreaking, as the young lovers finally satisfy their longing but pay a horrifically high price. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Peet creates an explosive world where love is frowned upon and the past has bloody teeth and bad breath. It's a world that demands deep examination and thought, and Peet has done a splendid job of creating it.
—Booklist (starred review)

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. Recommend this memorable novel to mature teen readers, and if you can wrest away a copy, read it yourself.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

This is mesmerizing through the sheer force and liveliness of its prose, as well as its unpredictable, inexorable plot. Peet's gift for imagery makes the novel fizz with the intensity of an adolescent's heightened perceptions-in which everything is alive, and even boredom is an all-engrossing activity. Place, period, and adolescent passion all come through with exuberant feeling and humor; Peet's subtle, literary play with narrative voice, style, and chronology make this a satisfyingly sophisticated teen novel. Outstanding.
—The Horn Book (starred review)

Sophisticated teens and adults will appreciate this subtle yet powerful exposition of the far-reaching implications of war.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Children's Literature - Renee Farrah Vess
Generations of Clem's family have experienced disaster. Taking place almost exclusively in England, we watch Clem's life unfold as well as stories from his family's past. We learn about the lives of his parents and grandparents, all affected by war and hardship. Clem's life takes a wild turn when he meets Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Suddenly, all his thoughts are of her, and he happily lets them consume him. However, like the rest of family, there is something beyond his control that threatens to undo everything he's worked toward: The Cuban Missile Crisis. Fictionalized dialogue involving President John F. Kennedy and Russia's Nikita Khrushchev has generous portions of the book that serves as a countdown to a life-altering moment for Clem. A message about how war stretches through time and countries damaging more than the intended victims. This is a turbulent, raw, novel that is gritty and ties together world history, war, and family dynamics. Its darkness and underlying didactic tones will intrigue thinkers and philosophers. Reviewer: Renee Farrah Vess
School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

A coming-of-age story framed by some of the most terrifying events of the last 60 years, from World War II to 9/11.

Peet achieves what few writers for young adults have: a bold venture that spans generations against a backdrop of war and global politics and their effect on individual lives, while describing minute facets of those lives in intimate, cinematic detail.Clem came unexpectedly into the world, a "wartime mishap," whose premature birth was brought on by a German air raid over rural England. A smart, working-class boy with a talent for drawing, Clem attends school on scholarship. In defiance of the local prohibition against "getting Above Yerself," Clem falls in love with Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy man bent on bulldozing his land into a prairie. In delicious and often humorous meanderings through time and place, the author adroitly intertwines the brinkmanship of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis with the teenagers' secret romance. His narrative glides easily from Clem's first-person retrospective to third-person storytelling from several points of view, including Kennedy's and Krushchev's.

Sophisticated teens and adults will appreciate this subtle yet powerful exposition of the far-reaching implications of war.(Fiction. 14 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455829019
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mal Peet is the author of the Carnegie Medal-winning novel TAMAR, as well the three novels starring reporter Paul Faustino. He lives in Devon, England.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2014

    Amazing

    One of my favorite books, if you love Tamar you'll love this!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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