I don’t know if the author intended this to read like a re-tread of A Separate Peace, but it sure feels like it. Introverted newcomer at a boarding school? Check. Super charismatic best friend? Check. Pranks? Check. Death? Check. Endless faffing around on the subject of broken-ness? Checkmate.
The writing is solid, though much of that strength is borrowed from well-curated quotations (the protagonist collects famous last words, which is a trifle too precious but succeeds in spicing up the story with other people’s words). My main beef is with the ending, which is structurally unsound. It’s a bridge that doesn’t reach the other side of the river. Basically, our emotionally tailspinning teenager decides that there must be an afterlife because the alternative can’t fit in his brain. The end.
That’s not remotely how I feel about the vivid friends of my youth who will forever remain 19 while I get older every year. Although A Separate Peace is by no means a great work, there’s a reason why it’s set 15 years after Phineas died. A 16-year-old can’t understand the half of it.