Dusty's Reviews > Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green
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May 19, 09

bookshelves: read-in-2009
Recommended to Dusty by: Danny Ramos
Read in May, 2009

I'm no moralist, but I confess that I believe some censorship is justified in books that are classified "young adult". I don't mean that novels should be rated like movies or video games, or that literature shouldn't address the, uh, crimes of youths and adolescents, just that as a teacher and human being I find it irresponsible to market to children books that sensationalize self-destructive behaviors like using fake IDs to purchase liquor and cigarettes, consuming said liquor and cigarettes secretly and often to "cope" with personal difficulties, having sexual relationships with people just for the sake of the experience, etc.

As you have probably already guessed, these activities, staples in the world of adult literature, unsettled me when they appeared with such frequency and flippancy in John Green's YA novel Looking For Alaska.

The book itself is not badly written, especially since it is Green's debut. The author's efforts to be "cool" and "quirky" are perhaps too evident in the early pages, which are crammed with unusual vocabulary, repeating stylistic motifs (like the numbered sentences) and characters whose real names are replaced with nicknames like "Pudge", the "Colonel" and the "Eagle"; however, once Green settles into his plot, Alaska quickly becomes very likable. The student who recommended the book to me, who, for the record, is an 18-year-old boy, said this was one of only two books he had ever found interesting enough to read from cover to cover. I can understand his enthusiasm. The novel is a real page-turner, genuinely funny and human and at times very suspenseful.

But why the drinking? Why the glorified cigarettes? Why the vividly described erections and fellatio? Are they included only to captivate and shock the impressionable adolescent audience? If so, their inclusion is reprehensible, and this book deserves one star and should be relocated to the "adult" shelves in the bookstore. We live in a world where children already drink and have sex at too early an age, and movies, video games, television shows, and too many parents have too little regard for the innocence and gullibility of youth audiences. I can't approve of a book that teaches children it's okay to drink, whatever the reason, when they're fourteen and fifteen and sixteen years old.

Or is Alaska's deviancy didactic? Do the characters smoke and drink and engage in unadvisable and unpleasant sex as a cathartic lesson to the impressionable adolescent audience? One could argue that the tragedy that occurs midway through the book -- don't worry, I won't divulge too much-- is the consequence of the above-stated behaviors. If this is the case, the book deserves four stars and should be read in every high school classroom in the country, and Green should be applauded for his subtlety.

Problem is, I can't decide which of these two scenarios is more likely.
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05/16/2009 page 45
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