Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Flashback: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Books don't have to be new to be deserving of a review! On Fridays I flashback to some of my favorite books of all-time.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Wanting more out of his friendless, uneventful adolescence, Miles has gone off to boarding school to seek (in Rabelais' reputed last words) the "Great Perhaps." In his first months of school he finds his life turning around.  Despite incurring the wrath of the "weekday warriors," he's found his first real friends, discovered the vices of cigarettes and alcohol, acquired a girlfriend, turned pranks and become hopelessly and helplessly enamored with the beautiful, troubled Alaska Young.  In one night, his relationship with Alaska seems to evolve into something more and comes to an abrupt end.  Miles is forced to wrestle with his guilt, and acknowledge the superficiality of his relationship with Alaska as he seeks to understand what happened.  

The genius of this novel (for me) is threefold: the shockingly realistic behavior and deeply witty and intelligent language exhibited by the teenaged characters, the structure of the novel that signals a countdown to some defining moment (that presumably has to do with Alaska, whose name is featured in the title), echoes of the classics (A Separate Peace, Dead Poets Society, etc.) but with a distinct new voice and fresh perspective on boarding school life.  I also really enjoyed Miles' particular quirk of memorizing famous last words.  Is it any wonder that Green's debut novel earned him a Printz Award, attracted legions of "nerdfighter" followers and established Green as the go-to author for literary fiction for young adults?  I think not.

We read this book for our faculty book club at school.  It was interesting to see the division among the faculty of those who were absolutely horrified by the seeming absence of adults and the irresponsible behavior of Miles, Alaska and their friends, and those who felt that the novel spoke to their younger, naive selves.  I think that by the end of the meeting, after talking through the novel and assuring the naysayers that John Green was really a good guy and that his audience tends to be more mature teens who aspire to do good works and be good people, that almost everyone came around to enjoy the book.  A bunch of attendees even went on to read The Fault in Our Stars (which everyone unanimously preferred).  I also taught them about DFTBA.

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