Looking for Alaska

“Cornbread!” he screamed. “CHICKEN!” the crowd responded. “Rice!” “Peas!” And then, all together: “WE GOT HIGHER SATs.”
“Hip Hip Hip Hooray!” the Colonel cried.
“YOU’LL BE WORKIN’ FOR US SOMEDAY!” (Looking for Alaska by John Green)

Cover of Looking for AlaskaThis book is a Robin Hood of YA literature – it robs coolness from the rich, the good-looking, and the dim-witted, and gives it all to the overlooked smart, dorky, and somewhat unattractive members of teenager-hood. John Green is another author that truly respects the intellects of adolescents – Looking for Alaska is riddled with unexplained allusions, quick jokes, and bits of fascinating lectures on religion. Yet he also dares to go into deep into the territory of teenage emotions; he doesn’t stop short of sex, drugs, or deep depression as some other YA books do, but boldly explores them all.

Although I suspect that the deep emotions expressed in this book are what have captured it the love of adolescents everywhere, I found its almost ridged structure to be more noteworthy. One doesn’t expect to find a highly structured format in a YA book filled with smoking, drinking and sex – that is reserved for perfectly symmetrical classic works, like Pride and Prejudice. Yet Looking for Alaska’s chapters meticulously measure the time before and after the accident, the novel starts on the first day of the semester and ends on the last, and excerpts from a class on religion are systematically interwoven in order to give the ideas presented in the book a firm foundation. The strict format almost acts as a barrier between the book and the story; a barrier that might protect the reader from intense emotions presented in the book and, perhaps, enable the reader to analyze their own sometimes overpowering emotions.

Keep in mind – if YA literature isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to fill out the reader’s advisory survey here, and I’ll provide a hand-crafted book recommendation, fit to your current mood and reading needs.

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7 thoughts on “Looking for Alaska

    • I agree with you completely – this book would appeal to and satisfy both adults and pre-teens. But, just to be clear, labeling it YA isn’t a derogatory comment; it is simply a reflection of the intended audience of John Green’s work. Even though adults can read it and remember their teenage years and gain satisfaction from the plot and prose, it is a book that speaks to the plight of teenagers and primarily takes into consideration their concerns and life style choices.

      • I guess I just feel that a lot of people hear YA and think that a book will be fairly simplistic in terms of plots, and literary themes, and other things. Not a lot of people would think a YA book could be this intelligent. I caught a lot of different literary references and homages to classical works like The Great Gatsby.

      • Yes, I think a lot of people do think that YA is generally an ‘unliterary’ genre, but I also agree that they are (for the most part) wrong. Adult literature, just like YA, has its blemishes and embarrassing moments, but a lot of YA literature today is intelligent, relevant, and worthwhile reading for anyone. From what I’ve seen, John Green is definitely one of the highlights – I can’t wait until I finish up the semester and have the time to read other works of his, like ‘Paper Towns’ and ‘An abundance of Katherines’.

  1. Since I live with a dedicated John Green fan, I’ve read all of his books, including (just this weekend) his newest, “The Fault in Our Stars”. He continually impresses me with his respect for the intelligence of teens– I think that respect is one reason he connects with them so well. And he writes really, really well.

      • As my John Green expert pointed out, it’s his first book in which parents play more than a offstage role. He treats them fairly, which some YA books fail to do. It tackles a really tough subject–dying kids–with humor and honesty and emotions that seem real, rather than heavily orchestrated. For a book that can’t have a happy ending, it still managed to make me laugh and cry and left me with a feeling of contentment. Also, I did not want to stop reading it, and stayed up significantly past my bedtime to finish it.

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