Book Reviews

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green … [RIFE WITH SPOILERS]

looking…seriously, do not read past the plot synopsis if you haven’t read this book and/or you actually care about the ending being spoiled…consider yourself forewarned.

Review: Miles “Pudge” Halter is obsessed with famous last words; his favorite being that of poet Francois Rabelais who said, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”  The idea of finding his personal “Great Perhaps” inspires Miles to attend the Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama. During his time at Culver Creek, Miles become friends with the beautiful, wild, and self-destructive Alaska Young, Chip “The Colonel” Martin, Takumi Hikohito and Lara Buterskaya. The group is thick-as-thieves and experiment with smoking, drinking, and drugs. The different cliques in school quarrel through pranks, with each prank being more extreme than the last. Alaska is determined to pull the best prank of all. That’s all I’m going to say…I can’t seem to find a great way to conclude a summary for this book without giving away all the “feels,” so I’m going to leave it at that for those that haven’t read it.

Looking for Alaska won the 2006 Michael L. Printz (ALA) for literary merit. It also made the following YALSA lists: YALSA Best Books for Young Adults: 2006, YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Death and Dying (2009), YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers: Fiction: 2006 and, of course, the Banned Books list for 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.looking-for-alaska

As far as authenticity [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD], John Green loosely based this story on his own boarding school experience. He is, himself, obsessed with peoples last words, he did partake in some harmless pranks at the school (very similar to those included in the book), and one of his classmates did pass away in a similar fashion to Alaska. From the FAQs on his website: “When I was a student at Indian Springs, a classmate of mine died, and her death was devastating to the entire community. My relationship with her was nothing like Pudge’s relationship with Alaska (I was much more like the fake mourners that Pudge rails against), but she was someone I liked and admired a lot, and even now that it has been almost 20 years, I still don’t feel reconciled to what happened.” So, yeah, this story is pretty authentic.

Audience: I would recommend this book for grades 9-12. There are some lusty scenes, but Green is a master at alluding to sexual acts without taking it too far. Yes, the characters do smoke, drink underage and experiment with drugs…but, that doesn’t mean that all teens reading this book will suddenly find those activities appealing and “give ‘er the ol’ college try.” Get real! John Green may be a wordsmith, but Looking for Alaska is not going to be the pivotal apex that convinces a teen to try any of the vices these characters take part in. It’s just not.

looking-for-alaska-john-green-paperback-cover-artPersonal Reaction [MORE SPOILERS!]: I love love loved this book. Loved it. It might be one of John Green’s finest. It has everything I look for in a book: comedy, suspense, and (of course) “feels”…oh, the feels. The characters were relatable, quirky, and fun, which makes the climax that much more devastating. The chapter titles ingeniously countdown to some horrible incident (“fifty days before,” etc.) that leaves the reader questioning “fifty days before WHAT?”  The culmination of said countdown tears your heart out. I loved it. The novel continues with the “after” chapters, in which our surviving characters work out their feeling about what happened and, eventually, let Alaska go…oh, and one final prank (the prank to win all high school pranks). School Library Journal called the dialogue “crisp” and to that I’d have to agree. The book reads largely the way Green speaks in his vlogbrothers videos—his personality shines through in a big way. Seriously, I loved this book.

Themes: Loss, grief, boarding schools, self-destructive behaviors in teenagers, teenagers, teens, YA, death, suicide, friendship, love, interpersonal relationships, risk, pranks, banned, banned books, BABOWE

A few reasons for banning/challenge:

  • “Too racy to read”
  • Sexual content
  • Inappropriate language/offensive language
  • Drugs/alcohol/smoking
  • unsuited for age group

So that pretty much concludes my Banned Books Week book reviews. I hope you enjoyed my selection. If you missed any from this week see the links below.

It’s Banned Books Week…and more! (Judy Blume’s Forever…)
Banned Books Week, part deux (Robert Cromier’s The Chocolate War)
Banned Book #3: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Banned Books Review #4: Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
As if you didn’t expect a Banned Books review about the Hunger Games… 😉
Friday Favorite, Stay Gold, Pony Boy!
 

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