Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

When Clem first sees Frankie in the strawberry fields, he is smitten.  She is gorgeous and removed, clearly unused to work, and he is a working class boy there to earn a few extra summer shillings with his buddy Goz.  Frankie's father owns the strawberry fields, and all the other fields in Bratton Morley, a small village in Norfolk, England.  This makes her untouchable to the local boys, especially Clem, whose father works for Frankie's.  But as soon as Frankie casually asks Clem if he's any good at kissing, he's lost in love with her.

Any moment Clem and Frankie can snatch to sneak away to be together, they can.  But their parents discovering their love affair isn't the only thing threatening them.  As the summer of 1962 rolls into autumn, in Cuba a man named Fidel Castro is making wild threats to launch nuclear missiles and destroy the world.  The only thing stopping him?  Equal firepower controlled by President John F. Kennedy of the United States.

From Clem's grandfather's death in World War I to Clem's own sudden and early birth brought on by the shock of an RAF Spitfire shooting up his grandmother's chimney in 1945 to the unexpected finale of Clem and Frankie's story in September of 2011, this is an unsual, moving, intricately written diagram of unexpected moments and dry, hilarious observations on the oddity of life.  Focused on the summer and fall of 1962, Clem and Frankie's intense romance dovetails with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  With wry, fly-on-the-wall conversations between Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Krushchev, and Castro, this is a take on history that completely turns the historical fiction genre on its head.  And the writing, oh the writing!  Epic in scope, this is a page turner of a book that'll keep you up late - even though you already know how it all turns out.

(who can't wait to start reading Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, the sequel to the fabulous Finnikin of the Rock!)

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