Thursday, February 17, 2011

Time Machine Please

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
This classic novel exposes the volatile world of male adolescence with an engrossing tale of love, hate, war, and peace. Gene and Phineas share a room at Devon, an exclusive New England prep school, in the summer prior to World War II and form a complex bond of friendship that draws out both the best and worst characteristics of each boy and leads ultimately to violence, a confession, and the betrayal of trust. Narrator Scott Snively's ability to switch seamlessly from the perspective of a teenager tormented by feelings he doesn't want to understand to the reflective musing of a man looking back at the formative experience of his youth provide both the story and the setting with an immediacy that quickly engages readers. Not only does Snively give a distinctive voice to each of the main characters, he also delineates the mannerisms and personalities of the other boys and the teachers surrounding them. A Separate Peace is an intense, mesmerizing, and compelling rendition of a classic coming-of-age tale.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Small-town Alabama in the 1930s is the setting for one of the best-loved classics of all time, which showcases a child’s brutal introduction to racial prejudice and adult injustice. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the story unfolds through a series of incidents that expose the evil side of human nature—most notably the guilty verdict in the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man charged with the rape of a white girl, and the vengefulness of Bob Ewell, the father of the girl who was raped. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man's struggle for justice—but the weight of history will only tolerate so much. In the end, Scout embraces her father’s advice to practice sympathy and understanding, and then demonstrates that her experiences with hatred and prejudice will not allow her faith in human goodness to be tarnished.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
In this tale of passion and revenge on the Yorkshire moors, we learn of Catherine and Heathcliff, tempestuous and ill-fated lovers. Their story is told by Lockwood, a newcomer to the area, as an entry in his diary. Lockwood recounts records that are told to him by Nelly, a servant who has grown up with Catherine.
There is a thin line between love and hate, and once Heathcliff crosses it, we see a grand, passionate, and absorbingly interesting man turn into a fearsome thug. Thwarted in his love for his childhood soulmate, Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff turns his devastation outward, becoming a hateful—and hated—person all across the bleak moors that surround his Yorkshire village.
Heathcliff courts and marries the sister of the man whom Catherine chose over Heathcliff, only to torture his wife emotionally as a way of getting even with her brother. Meanwhile, Catherine slowly wastes away as she pines for Heathcliff—for although she once rejected him, she eventually realizes that she has made an irredeemable error and can never be happy.
Wuthering Heights is a grand and glorious novel that dramatically illustrates the power of love, for good and ill. But more importantly, it teaches us that the only path to happiness is to be true to one's heart, rather than one's head. Had Catherine honored her bond with Heathcliff and refused to succumb to the social mores of her day, not only would the two of them have been much happier, but all of the many people whose lives they stumbled into would have been much better off as well.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed doing these summaries, and I only wish I had this passion back in high school; I would have gotten more out of my English classes.  I must admit that I remembered all of the details but needed help to write summaries.  I searched online to read examples.  One site I found,, is a site I would have definitely used when I was younger.  It is hard to believe that there was a time that I just didn’t like to read.  My lack of enjoyment made book reports and English papers extremely hard to complete.  I never did exceptionally well on those papers, and after reading the SparkNotes I realized why.  They give a very matter-of-fact explanation of the books, but what is lacking is the passion and intensity I remembered about all of these stories.  I had to get the books out, and I picked pages at random to jog my memory. By only reading a few pages, I still felt the distinctiveness of the many characters and was immediately taken to the places the authors describe so beautifully.  Where can I get in a time machine and tell High School Jessica to embrace these books and all the other wonderful ones she disregarded? Grownup Jessica feels cheated by her own literary injustice!

Hope these summaries help anyone who hasn’t read these novels not only vote in my poll, but possibly pick up one and read!  The next poll will be up March 1st. Let me know of any suggestions, that you would like me to address, in the comments.  


  1. So hard to pick. My favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird with The Great Gatsby a close second. Some of the others I haven't read, but need to :)

    Popped over from the Write-Brained Network to check out your blog. Nice pad you've got set up here.

    Nice to meet you--Angela

  2. Oh, great post, Jessica. :-) I loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the voice. And I loved WUTHERING HEIGHTS for the volitile passion. I still haven't read A Separate Peace, but now you've made me want to.

    Another one of my faves is JANE EYRE. And like you, I discovered my passion for the classics late in life. Maybe that's because I can finally appreciate good writing?

    Anita(raven1 from QT)

  3. I honestly love them all and I have a TON of classics that I love. I will do another classic poll in the future with different classics. I will be putting up more polls, I would love some suggestions! Thanks for following!

  4. Haha Jess don't worry, sparknotes was forbidden when I was in high school! Great job with the summaries :)