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Review: Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

Life: An Exploded diagram by Mal Peet
Published by Walker
Challenge: BBC
Source: Given to me by my lovely blogging friend Sarah

This is a brilliant coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Cold War and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clem Ackroyd lives with his parents and grandmother in a claustrophobic home too small to accommodate their larger-than-life characters in the bleak Norfolk countryside. Clem's life changes irrevocably when he meets Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and experiences first love, in all its pain and glory. The story is told in flashback by Clem when he is living and working in New York City as a designer, and moves from the past of his parents and grandmother to his own teenage years. Not only the threat of explosions, but actual ones as well, feature throughout in this latest novel from one of the finest writers working today.

Life: An Exploded Diagram is a coming of age story set in rural North Norfolk during the Cold War. These two things alone made it a bit of a must read for me. Having never read an Mal Peet I wasn't sure what to expect but I can honestly say I really enjoyed it.

Life is one of those books you can devour in a matter of hours despite its size (at just about 400 pages long it is a bit of a monster). I was totally engrossed and found myself just wanting to read more and more to find out what happened next.

As I said Life is basically a coming of age story following the life of Clem Ackroyd a boy from rural north Norfolk focusing particularly on his teenage years and the relationship he develops with local rich girl Frankie. When I was reading it it reminded me both of Boy by Roald Dahl in its narrative and style but also a bit like an Adrian Mole story in how ordinary Clem actually was. I loved the relationship between them and I was on tender hooks waiting to see what was going to happen between them.

I loved the Norfolk references being a native myself. I hate it when stories are "set" in a place but it is obvious that the person has never been there. Apart from the fact that a few names are changed (I loved the use of the name Hazeborough - if you are from Norfolk you will get the joke - if not I don't think I can explain it) you can really tell that the author is writing about somewhere he has actually been and about experiences he lived through earlier in his life.

I also really enjoyed the historical references. The books is a prime example of the type of historical fiction I love and the type I think appeals to Young Adults themselves. It doesn't attempt to over burden you with detail after detail about the period but rather builds them into the story to give you a real sense of period without the reader really realising it.

I must say the end came as a bit of a surprise and I had to go back over a couple of pages to check I had got it right. I didn't see it coming at all but it fit really perfectly the story as a whole and I loved how poetic it was against the historical backdrop it was written in.

all in all an excellent book which I really enjoyed. I will be recommending this one regularly.


Annette Mills said…
Sounds good. I did like Peet's book about WWII. Can't remember what it was called ... but I'm interested in this period of history, so I'll definitely check this one out. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
I'm interested in this one simply because it is recommended by Patrick Ness lol. But I haven't heard much about it/seen many reviews yet so thanks for letting us know your thoughts!

Amy @ Turn the Page
I only found out about this one the other day - it sounds very good. I'm going to add it to my wishlist :D
I admit, this book is one I'm looking out for solely on Patrick Ness's recommendation! But it also sounds quite interesting as well. How great that it's very local to you. I think I'd be more excited and inclined to read a book where I recognise the local setting. I've not read anything by Mal Peet either, will you be picking up his other books?
Sarah said…
Fab review Kirsty, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one :o)