cover image Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life: An Exploded Diagram

Mal Peet. Candlewick, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5227-2

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.)