Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking for Alaska - John Green

looking for alaska
john green
c. 2005
221 pages
completed 11/7/2010

read for: what's in a name challenge

*may contain spoilers*

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.

Miles has decided to leave home and family in Florida in favor of boarding school in Alabama, searching for, in the words of Francois Rabelais, The Great Perhaps. At Culver Creek school he finds friends and adventure, something other than the books of famous last words that were his only comfort at home. But just like Miles, there's more to his new friends than initially meets the eye and in the aftermath of a huge incident in the middle of the school year, Miles has a hard time understanding exactly who these new friends are.

I don't often read a lot of young adult novels anymore. For one thing, at 25 I'm not exactly their target market. But more than that, I sometimes think they try too hard. Before I continue, I realize I'm making a wide generalization. I'm not really talking about young adult genre novels, but books that are just marketed as YOUNG ADULT FICTION, stuff that is supposed to be literary fiction for a younger audience. And even then I know I shouldn't generalize like this, but I'm going to anyway. I'm off-put by young adult books because they always seem to have to be ABOUT SOMETHING. They're about bullying, or teen dating violence, or anorexia, or drug abuse. They can't just be about life, they have to talk about some kind of hot button issue within the teen world. I'm sure I'm being unfair, but that is the way I see YA being marketed anymore. And not to say that those issues shouldn't be addressed in literature, but sometimes a book that's solely about one of those things can get a little bogged down in the one issue. I feel this same way about adult literature such as "cancer books," "grief books," and "middle aged women un-fullfilled in their marriages books."

With all those pre-conceived notions in my mind, I was a little apprehensive going into this but I ended up really liking it. I think there was definite potential for this to become an "issue book" with messages of the evils of self destruction and drunk driving oozing off every page, but instead those issues were seamlessly incorporated into regular kid life. In fact, with most big issue books (YA or otherwise) it's almost impossible to go into the book with no idea what the issue is. You know going in it's a book about bullies or cancer or domestic abuse, etc. With this book, when the incident happened I was shocked. It's so much better to read something shocking when you don't know going in it's going to happen.

One thing I really appreciated was that the group of friends Miles found himself in the middle of weren't on an extreme of the social scale. Instead, the characters felt very real. They were funny and stupid and talked pretentiously about subjects they didn't fully understand yet, just like regular kids. I think too often teens are depicted (and at this point I'm talking about movies and TV and everything) as either the most popular kids in school or total losers. There are never any average kids anymore. These kids were just average kids and they weren't struggling to improve their social standing. They had found their niche and were happy with the people that surrounded them.

I know I've done a lot of ripping on YA books in this post, and like I said above I'm sure that some of what I've said isn't fair. This book hasn't changed my mind or anything. I'll still probably steer clear from what I see as "issue books," and maybe I'll be missing out on some good things, but that's okay. Other people are able to appreciate them more than I do, so those are the poeple who should be reading them.


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