Sunday, May 20, 2012


Looking For Alaska, John Green, Dutton Books, 2005, 221 pp


First of all the title: This earliest novel by John Green has nothing to do with the state of Alaska.

Second of all, though marketed as YA and then promptly banned by schools across the country, I guess for sexual content, I don't think it is solidly YA, but straddles the YA/Adult boundary. Then again, the sexual content is pretty much straight out of a 16-year-old boy's mind, so what? Are we going to ban 16-year-old boys from thinking? I guess that is what the book banners hope.

I liked this novel. It portrays teens quite exactly right. Not the teens we are shown by the media and advertising, but the real ones of the late 20th and early 21st century who like to think deep thoughts while pulling off silly pranks, eating junk food, getting high and/or drunk, and figuring out sex vs love.

It is a boarding school novel for sure which is a great setting for all of the above because there are no parents around. Also it puts kids from all kinds of backgrounds and families with varying values and rules under one system of regulations. Potent mix.

What I loved:

Miles (Pudge) with his fascination for "last words" of famous authors and his search for the "Great Perhaps."
Alaska, who is one of the truly great female characters created by a male author.
Constant references to The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What I didn't love as much:

The second section when all the friends process the terrible thing that happened (no spoilers here.) Compared to the first free-wheeling, hilarious and realistic part, this section had a teen counsellor drift. Not that I think counselling is a bad thing, but I don't like it when an author is doing it surreptitiously via fiction. No! No! Not OK!

Having worked in a bookstore featuring a strong YA section, I'd heard plenty about John Green. Now I have finally read his first novel and see that he is an accomplished and talented writer. I am looking forward to An Abundance of Katherines.

(Looking For Alaska is available in paperback on the shelves and as an ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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