Banned Books Week – A Separate Peace

Do you want to know the quickest way to get me to read a book? Call it a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” And in 1980, somebody did just that with today’s challenged book.

You’ll notice from the graphic above (provided by that one of the biggest reasons books are challenged is sexual content. Because, you know, books should not at all reflect real life. Because instead of parents taking the initiative and teaching their children about sex (how taboo), they need to ban any instances of sex in the world. Because people just don’t do that. Right?

It’s ridiculous. Just do your job as parents and stop patrolling what the rest of the world is doing.

Sorry. I’m getting ranty. This is a major point of contention with me in the world, in general.

Clearly, I feel very heated about banning a book for sexual content. If you don’t want to read a book with sex in it, then just don’t. If you don’t want your kids to read a book with sex in it, then just don’t let them. But don’t limit 16-year-old me, trying to claw my way into great literature, because you disagree with the book. That seems simple, right?

Maybe it’s just me.

In any case, I’ve now made this way more about me than about the challenged book.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles is one of my favorite wartime novels.

Set in a fictionalized version of Exeter Academy, A Separate Peace is one man’s reflections on his childhood and the time he spent at boarding school. Gene, the character’s protagonist reflects on his friendship with his childhood best friend, Finny, and the time they spent together. It’s a tearjerker. Like a serious 10-tissue kind of book.

I’m going to be honest with you now. I kind of misled you with my opening argument here. The reason I chose this novel is not because of the large amounts of sex in this book. Because there aren’t large amounts of sex in this book.

Because there isn’t any sex in this book.

I mean. None. Seriously. There aren’t even any prominent female characters in this book.

And I know, I know. I’ve devoted much of this blog to talking about books with gay protagonists, so that should be a consideration of mine, right? Except they’re not gay.

When I was 16 years old and reading this book for the first time, I never picked up on any sexual or homoerotic overtones. And when I reread this two summers ago, I still didn’t pick up on any of those overtones.

There was nothing in this book to make 16-year-old me (or modern-day me) consider this book to be a “filthy, trashy sex book.” If 16-year-old me had heard this book were a “filthy, trashy sex book” he would have been SO disappointed when he got to the end.

Thankfully, I didn’t know those things then. And I don’t understand those things now.

The other times A Separate Peace was challenged are far less heinous, if I’m being honest. Mostly, people disagree with the explicit language in A Separate Peace, but if we’re not banning human beings (myself included) for their potty mouths, then I can hardly see the argument behind getting rid of this beautiful coming-of-age tale that Knowles wrote.

It’s the age-old tale of a boy discovering himself through friendships and experiences. It’s about Gene and Finny and the things they help each other discover about themselves. It’s about high school boys navigating life, the same way Looking for Alaska is. The same way Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is. The same way any teenage coming-of-age book is.

So, book banners, you can keep you “filthy, trashy, sex books” off your bookshelves if you’d like. But that should not include A Separate Peace.

The Plucky Reader

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