Saturday, January 21, 2012

YA Book Review: Looking for Alaska

Late in the game, I read my first John Green YA novel over the past couple of days: Looking for Alaska.

I see his books self-selected by my 8th grade students, and had one tell me this week that he is their favorite author.  Another enthusiastically told showed me signed copies of his latest book.  Not having John Green on any of my classroom library shelves, and never having read him,  I'm working through them now in the hope of discovering more high interest literature for my room.

The Printz Award winner Looking for Alaska is excellent--John Green doesn't need me to say that.  Starred reviews of this novel hit 5/5 stars all over the place, but before you put it on your classroom shelf you need to read it and have that talk with yourself--is this appropriate for my classroom?

Part of me writhes and despises this talk.  When we have this talk about a great book I feel naive and like an old fuddy-duddy.

A coming of age novel, Looking for Alaska contains teenagers sneaking around smoking and drinking at a boarding school.  They talk about sex--there are some brief references to and acts of sex--as well as suicide and death.

Sometimes when I have this talk it feels as though I'm trying to convince myself that teenagers are not curious about those things.

I'm reminded of the film version of Grease.  In 6th grade when it was released, I saw it at the beach  during the summer heading into my 7th grade year.  While my mom used to cover my eyes in the movie theater if someone kissed or worse in a film, she didn't ban me from seeing Grease and I can't recall anyone blaming Stockard Channing or Olivia Newtown John for inspiring sexual deviance in their children, and John Travolta and Jeff Conway seem like they are off the hook for smoking among teens in America and calling their car a "pussy wagon"--there are factions of adults who can look at the fabric of teen America as it is presented in books and film and label it inappropriate.  Yet, I think I've only met people in my age bracket who regard Grease fondly, and when we talk about it we don't hyperfocus on "flogging the log"--mostly we remember the story and the connection to some part of our adolescence.  Things are only inappropriate in hindsight--after we experienced for it ourselves--and in the case of Grease I'd be a hypocrite to call it inappropriate.  I'm having that same though about Looking for Alaska.

Highly recommended--look, I get what everyone else sees too--Looking for Alaska, and I'm learning more specifically, John Green, makes connections with adolescents.  Yet is it a book that you have to leave to them to find, or do you make it a little easier to access by keeping it on your bookshelf in your classroom?  By the looks of it, kids are doing a pretty good job of getting their hands on it already.

But before you put it on your shelf, have that talk first.

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