Genre: young adult, classic, dark academia aesthetic, historical setting
A timeless coming-of-age book set in the summer at the beginning of the second world war. The all-boys boarding school in New England becomes a rare place that has not yet lost its charm and innocence to violence. Friends and rivals is sometimes the same as we follow the protagonist Gene, a introverted intellectual, and the school’s star athlete Phineas, who also has the ability to talk himself out of any trouble. And trouble they find themselves in as Phineas is somewhat of a spontaneous risk-taker and Gene can’t seem to keep from following him, developing quite a strange bond. The events of the summer and the war eventually makes this period of time life-changing for Gene, that divide in anyone’s life where there’s a before and an after.
Rating out of five: four stars
This book gets a lot of shit because americans seems to be forced to read it too often in high school. But if you, like me, pick it up on your own, it’s quite obvious why it’s gotten its place as a classic.
Two things this book highlights exceptionally well; the setting of the external world at various times affecting or not affecting the remote world of the book, here the boarding school, as well as the unusual relationship between the two boys Gene and Phineas as they grow up side by side.
The knowledge of the outside world and the war brewing is something that constantly comes in drips through the story. That is, until the war breaks out and the cast of characters somehow intentionally try to downplay it in their heads until they finally are no longer able to ignore the reality in front of them. I read this book at the start of covid-19 becoming a pandemic, which was a somewhat ironic backdrop with its similar aspects despite the difference of how accessible news and media is today.
I was suprised by how queer the story felt, as a classic. A lot of searching after finishing the book lead me to the author being asked about and then rejecting any intentional homosexual themes. But I mean – obviously others had the same read of the situation. It’s interesting when the obsessiveness of the male and masculine goes so far to one side that it reads as queer. At points as they grow up the relationship between Gene and Phineas feels like those really destructive friendships that behave like romances, but the teens does not yet know how to pinpoint those big feelings or if they are gay. Spoken as a queer person. It could be interpreted as obsessiveness of other reasons, say jealousy, but it certainly is romantization going on in how Gene describes Finny. It fits with the (lately heavily criticized) dark academia concept because of that obsessiveness attached to the secluded group dynamic the boarding school brings.
Whether you want to call the relationship homoerotic or obsessive romantization for other reasons, it’s obvious the setting of the novel doesn’t permit such a relationship, as it gets its fitting ending.