Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Looking for Alaska" by John Green

Nothing like a little Young Adult fare to cleanse the palate. It's certainly the sorbet of the literary world, which is exactly what I needed to get over Anna Karenina.

Too bad I chose one that made me cry. Yes. I, of the iron will and the stone stomach, I who am devoid of sympathy, I who roll my eyes in the face of Nicholas Sparks and his tear-jerking ways. I shed a tear over this book. Or two.

In my defense, I did not boo-hoo. It was just a very quiet leaky-eye thing. I could have blamed it all on a wayward eyelash or a misplaced elbow (not my own, of course, because that's not possible. Try it. You'll see). Instead, a much more logical explanation is the fact that I cried for the time in my life that was awfully similar (though not so that anyone else would recognize it) to the cause of sadness in the book.

But I don't want to talk about my secret sorrow. I want to talk about banned books. It seems that next week is "Banned Books Week," which has come accompanied by a timely stink. Looking for Alaska is one of those books that has been frequently challenged, so far as to be called pornography. (Um, whaaa?) Hard-core, even! I am not a seasoned reader of "hard-core porn," but I hardly think a few scenes of teenagers making out constitutes any kind of porn at all.

However, I do have an opinion on book banning and I'm about to share it with you, like it or not. I must admit I am slightly ambivalent on the matter. On one hand, I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of banning books. The whole thing just seems wrong, up there with imprisoning journalists for speaking out against the government. On the other hand, there are many cases where age appropriateness should be taken into consideration when choosing reading material.

Looking for Alaska deals with a lot of topics that I don't want my kids reading about yet. Of course, my oldest is ten. He is completely unconcerned with this sort of book and I hope he stays that way for at least five more minutes. Once he hits high school, however, I'm pretty sure my resistance will fade. After all, it's kind of naive to think that high school students would be surprised by anything found in this book. I would not prevent my children from reading Looking for Alaska when the time was right, though I would want a chance to reiterate my opinions on smoking, drugs, drinking, and teen sex. Opinions which, if I've done my job right, my kids will already be plenty familiar with.

Because that's what it all comes down to: personal responsibility. It is each parent's job to be aware and informed, to decide whether they feel a book is appropriate for their own child, and when. It is not any other person's job to conclude that my child shouldn't read a particular book. Yes, I do ascribe to the somewhat old-fashioned notion that it is my job to give my children some guidance, rather than allowing them to open Pandora's box and flood themselves with all the evil in the world while they're still practically babies. But once they are ready for more adult themes, I'm not going to shelter them from books like these while I still have the chance to help them form their worldview.

Oops. I don't usually do this. I mean, I have opinions, but I prefer not to bring up touchy subjects on my blog. I like this to be my happy fun place. But these were the thoughts brought on by this book, and beyond expressing them, all I would have to say is that this book is edgy, well-written and a page turner. I can imagine that high school students must love it, just like the kids at the children's library loved Phoebe's singing because she told the truth.

And a sort of post script on the author: over the past few months I've gotten the idea that John Green can do no wrong. In the style of a true literary amnesiac, I can not remember which bloggers gave me that idea, although a quick google blogsearch shows me that two blogs I read (Raych and Nymeth) have discussed the author in general and this book in particular, so maybe it's their fault. One of these days I will also be reading Paper Towns, since I've already bought a copy based on the Can Do No Wrong theory.


Allie said...

I adore this is definitely one of my most favorite. There is something very beautiful and honest about it.

As for all the censorship issues, it comes down to parent choice. Parents need to be aware of what their children are reading and censor their own children, not everyone else's. If I don't want my future child to read something, they won't. :)

Brenna said...

I put this on my TBR after I read it was one of Nymeth's favorite books. I had no idea it was YA.

Lyd-ee-ah said...

Is this something that I should read? Do you still have it?

she said...

I've never read anything by John Green, but I have seen his Brotherhood 2.0 vlog series. Fantastic! I think I'll have to pick something of his up now...

Kristi said...

I'm much the same as you. I don't cry reading books either but I met my match in One Day by David Nicholls a couple of weeks ago.

I agree with you about censorship. I have my own views on what I will or will not read, but why force that on others.

I've never read John Green. I'll have to see if they have any of his books at my tiny library.

Stephanie said...

I have this book on my shelf, but I haven't gotten acquainted with John Green yet. I agree with you about being against censorship, but believing sensitivity to age appropriateness is important. The two issues often get tangled up.

Jessica said...

Yes being age sensitive and just outright banning are different issues. I have no idea what Ill do when my sons older but I often found that when I was a teenager any books with very adult themes tended did not tend to be books that interested me anyway.

Kathy said...

Allie--beautiful and honest are great words to describe this story.

Brenna--yup, it's YA. As far as I know, all of Green's books are intended for a YA audience.

Lydia--Hmmm, I don't know . . . how do you feel about hard-core porn? ;) I'm sorry but I already swapped the book! You might like it, though. You'd probably get into it more than Jacob's Ladder, anyway. :)

She--Yeah, give Green a try. I can't promise he'll be your new favorite author, but you never know! I'll be waiting to hear what you think.

Kristi--I just now read your One Day post and that sounds really good. Even though I hate crying over books I think I may have to give that one a try.

Stephanie--you're certainly right about the tangling thing. And something else that I didn't really touch on in my post--the age at which a certain book is appropriate for a child often differs from child to child. Yet another reason the parents need to decide rather than someone else making sweeping decisions.

Jess--it's funny that you say adult-themed books weren't interesting to you as a teenager--I don't think I was interested in many adult-themed books that were actually written for adults, but I was always very curious about books with adult themes that were written for teenagers. And I always had to hide them from my parents. :P

Trisha said...

I adored Paper Towns, and yet I still haven't picked up another John Green book. Bad Trisha.

Kathy said...

Glad to hear you liked Paper Towns. Now I look forward to reading it even more! Which John Green book do you think Bad Trisha will read next?

Charley said...

Like you, I didn't weep while reading this book, but there were a couple of moments where I teared up. I think Green captures the emotions of adolescence well.

Kathy said...

He really does do a good job of putting adolescence on paper! (Well, judging by this one book of his that I've read, anyway.) :)

Amanda said...

For some reason your post made me want to read this book, however looking back over it I don't see that you really said you liked it.

The first two thirds were very exciting and my heart raced right up to the AFTER section. But then I slowly started loosing interest. That may be partly due to my distaste for Alaska. It seemed to me too much was based on her looks and there wasn't much else there. I didn't cry or even feel all that sad. Now I sound like the "heartless bitch"!

As for the ban issue, I don't feel ANYTHNG people want to write should be banned. It's up to us as parents to guide our children to make the right choices. You can't protect them from everything, nor should you. How will they learn?

I know I read much more explicit books when I was young; this book was actually kind of tame, I thought. But what age is YA geared to anyway?

Now I am off to read Anna Karenina!

Kathy said...

I hope you have better luck with Anna Karenina than I did! ;)

Amanda said...

I am doing the audio version, probably the only way I would get through it. It's interesting enough. Not great that I am still finishing up Age of Innocence, because those story lines can get confused. But it is quite a difference from Looking for Alaska!

Kathy said...

Yeah, it can get confusing when you're listening to/reading similar books. That happened to me with Brisingr and The Book of Lost Things (I think).