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Life: An Exploded Diagram Hardcover – October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Peet creates an explosive world where love is frowned upon and the past has bloody teeth and bad breath. It's a world that demands deep examination and thought, and Peet has done a splendid job of creating it.
—Booklist (starred review)

Peet's brilliant, ambitious novel bridges the years between World War II and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, but at its heart is a star-crossed affair set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recommend this memorable novel to mature teen readers, and if you can wrest away a copy, read it yourself.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

This is mesmerizing through the sheer force and liveliness of its prose, as well as its unpredictable, inexorable plot. Peet's gift for imagery makes the novel fizz with the intensity of an adolescent's heightened perceptions-in which everything is alive, and even boredom is an all-engrossing activity. Place, period, and adolescent passion all come through with exuberant feeling and humor; Peet's subtle, literary play with narrative voice, style, and chronology make this a satisfyingly sophisticated teen novel. Outstanding.
—The Horn Book (starred review)

Sophisticated teens and adults will appreciate this subtle yet powerful exposition of the far-reaching implications of war.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

About the Author

Mal Peet (1947–2015) is the acclaimed author of the Carnegie Medal–winning novel Tamar as well as the  Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book Life: An Exploded Diagram and three Paul Faustino novels: Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure, a winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He is also the co-author of Cloud Tea Monkeys, Mysterious Traveler, and Night Sky Dragons, all of which he wrote with his wife, Elspeth Graham.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; 1 edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076365227X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763652272
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Young Mensan BookParade on March 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Mal Pete's "Life: an Exploded Diagram" is an outstanding example of what truly astounding literature should be. The storyline of this novel explains the remarkably realistic recounting of the life of Clem Ackroyd and his family's history. The story unfolds by describing the trials and tribulations of Win Little and her daughter Ruth Little as they live in the quite British town of Borstead Norfolk.

The story smoothly progresses into the main plot, which is the account of Clem Ackryod's life. Clem's lifetime is filled with as many twists and turns as that of a babbling brook flowing down a rocky mountain. His tale is filled with love and joy, but also with loss and grief. The narrative of Clem's lifetime is helplessly knotted with that of president John F. Kennedy and his battle with the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mal Pete's style of writing features incredibly well written prose that often had an almost poetic ring to it. Along the course of the novel, Pete often goes off on historical tangents that boost the appeal of the book overall, while still retaining the flow of the story. The first thirty pages of the book are a little dry, but you just have to keep with it because it's really an amazing read.

In addition to having an amazingly good plot, this novel also teaches the reader a few good life-altering lessons. Though, unlike the lessons of other books like The Giving Tree where the didactic messages are apparent, the lessons in this book are more secretive. One of the lessons is that you should always remember the unpredictability of life, because you never know what might happen. The book likewise explains the reality of how people and their views change over their lifetimes.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Lee on August 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This was a very strange book. Actually, no. This was a beautifully written, sharply ironic and deeply moving book - except I don't understand why it is being marketed as "Young Adult." This is the point at which I usually write "As a mother of a 13-year-old daughter who screens everything she reads ... ", and I admit that I picked up "Life: An Exploded Diagram" because Mal Peet's previous work has been so highly lauded. Also, as another reviewer mentioned, the story is set primarily against the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that is an event of some historical significance, and I was curious to see how a coming-of-age love story would work in that setting.

By page 2, however, it was quite clear to me that this book would be better grouped with others by Charles Gidley, David Nicholls - even Gabriel Garcia Marquez. With quotes from "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence and Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress", it's certainly no Stephanie Meyer (I am no fan of "Twilight"), Alison Noel or even Robert Cormier.

I'm guessing the reason for the book being thus marketed is the current temperature of the Young Adult reading market. Many adults are finding stronger appeal in the YA market, so, yeah, why not - just slap the label "YA" on a book, and you'd get middle schoolers, high schoolers, college and post-college readership.

My gripe is that no, this book is not suitable for middle schoolers or even high schoolers. This is not a "Teen" book. I can't imagine it to be of any appeal other than maybe "forbidden fruit" unless the reader is at least in his / her twenties - even though, yes, I see there is a 15-year-old reviewer here. There are more pages (300 or thereabouts out of 385) devoted to the romance between Ruth and George than Clem and Frankie's story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Kyle VINE VOICE on November 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I loved "Tamar," so picking up "Life: An Exploded Diagram" was pretty much a no-brainer. Mal Peet's got a gift for characters and describing social situations that few contemporary authors can equal. Peet's got a wicked dry sense of humor as well.

"Life: An Exploded Diagram" spans almost sixty years, from the beginning in World War II where the protagonist, Clem Ackroyd, is born during a Nazi bombing, to the ironic end where Clem and his longtime lover meet in Manhattan on 9/11/2001.

Clem's a bright enough and artistically skilled youth to test into a scholarship for a school where only the wealthy and privileged may attend. There, he meets Francoise, the love of his life and nowhere near his social equal since his father works as a mechanic for Francoise's father.

Nevertheless, we travel through from World War II with a hair-raising stop at the Cuban Missile Crisis and on to 9/11 with the pair. The story's intense, full of some of both Britain's and the UK's history and society. Characters are beautifully drawn and events are often page-turners.

This is not a book you'd take to the beach or even to your bed for some pre-sleep reading. You'll want to think this one over and even re-read a few passages.

Rebecca Kyle, November 2011
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J.Prather TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a fan of YA fiction, historical fiction and literary fiction, my expectations for this book were quite high. This book has been billed as a combination of all three of those genres, and has enough starred reviews to fill the night sky. Unfortunately, it never took off for me. I found the characters to be less than compelling, and the author's mode of storytelling to be rather off-putting. This book is much more sophisticated than the usual YA novel, and in fact I really don't understand why they are calling it one. It is more of a multi generational family novel set against the events occurring from World War II through 9/11.

While the prose is often poetic, and provides many keen observations into the very nature of war and peace, it just wasn't compelling. One of my favorite passages in this book occurs pretty close to the end when our narrator states that "History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road. We're not especially interested in what it consists of. We wait, more or less patiently, for it to pause, so that we can get to the liquor store or the laundromat or the burger bar". That is great stuff and in a way sums up my feelings about this book. The history got in the way of the love story, and the love story got in the way of the history. The story and the history never seemed to mesh for me. The pacing was odd, with historical interludes that were meant to enhance the story often killing off the momentum. This was not a book that I ever had an urge to continue reading, forcing myself to follow it through to the end.

The love story often seemed more of a lust story, with the reader given few clues to the character's actual emotions.
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