Monday, October 8, 2007

Review: Looking for Alaska

John Green's first novel, Looking for Alaska, is a faced-paced coming-of-age novel in which many teens will see themselves and their concerns. Although the basic plot line is one we've seen before - "odd" group of kids find themselves thrown together where they wrestle with big issues such as the meaning of life and how to be true to oneself - Green gives it freshness and depth.

This book was written for a young adult audience, but it resonates for adults as well. Many of us can also relate to the experiences of Miles (Pudge) Halter and his new boarding school mates because the situations they encounter mirror much of what we deal with as adults: friendship and loss; distrust of others not exactly like us; emotional pain; possibility; finding kindness; and adventure. They also recall the pain and uncertainties of our own adolescent journeys.

Miles is a smart and witty narrator. The story and the action centers around Alaska Young who is beautiful, bright, sexy, angst-ridden and tragic. She is the comet that Miles and his roommate, "the Colonel" chase after. She befriends them, she taunts them, she mystifies them, and she loves them. There are two others that round out this little circle but they are less defined and exist only as foils for our main trio. Green takes characters that could be stereotypes and realistically fleshes them out so that we are caught up in their story and care about them.

While there are plenty of warnings for inappropriate behavior and consequences, they are presented through an intimate story of one, individual boy's deepening maturity. A boy the reader grows to care about even if he likes to memorize the dying words of famous people.
Although this book would be perfect for school discussion and I am confident that there are teachers who see this book in the same way they view Catcher in the Rye, it will certainly make appearances on the banned books list for language, sex, and underage drinking. It is precisely because of these things and the universality of the experience for today's young people that it should be read and discussed. It accurately represents the choices and activities of today's teens and would resonate with them for precisely these reasons. I highly recommend it. ISBN978-0-14-240251-1, SPEAK; Penguin Putnam imprint.

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