Friday, October 4, 2013

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Last week, in honor of Banned Books Week, I read Looking for Alaska by John Green.  It was one of the books that made it onto the list of top challenged books in 2012 -- number 7 on the list.  As my long-time readers will know (if I still have any after my long silences), I read a challenged book, usually from the previous year's list, every year during Banned Books Week.  I had read a lot of what was on the list for 2012, so I didn't have very many to choose from if I wanted to read something new.

As it turned out, though, I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska.  It was everything I'd hoped for from a challenged book: some controversial drinking, smoking, drugs, and sex (not too much, but just enough to make it realistic, since it is, after all, about teenagers at a boarding school!), but ultimately, a powerful message arrived at through tragedy.  The YA genre never fails to impress me with the way it deals with serious subjects.

I mentioned the book to my NaNoWriMo friends last week -- there is a small group of us that has continued to meet every Friday year-round -- and one of my friends who is reasonably well read in the genre said, "Oh, I don't like John Green."  As she put it, "You can always tell someone is going to die."  Well, yeah, that is a popular topic for a lot of heavy-hitting YA books.  And you can tell, early on, that this book is heading that way.

But that didn't make it any less of a worthwhile read.  I cried my way through the end of it, even though I wasn't really surprised by what happened, but more importantly, I was awed by the message of hope at the very end.  Even though it came out of tragedy, it was inspiring.

This is the kind of thing people are trying to block when they challenge books.  It's a sobering thought.  Why shouldn't kids read about death and hope?  One is a incontrovertible fact of life, and the other -- well, everyone should be so lucky as to have a book inspire them once in a while.  The drinking and other controversial topics are facts of life for most teens, too, so I see no problem with including them in the book.  C'mon, it's not like they were shown in a positive light.

But the fact of the matter about books like this is that it's always adults doing the challenging.  There's a great quote by Madeline L'Engle -- the author of A Wrinkle in Time -- that goes, "If a book is too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."  Sadly this is all too true.  Grown-ups are often excessively offended -- ostensibly for the sake of the children -- by books that said children find momentous and inspiring.

I highly recommend Looking for Alaska.  My friend doesn't like John Green because of the tragic element in his books, but I thought this was a beautiful book with a powerful ending.

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