As banned books are celebrated this week in the United States, I figure it’s only appropriate to review a book that has been targeted for censorship.
Winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award for YA literary excellence, Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005) has been criticized for underage drinking, drugs,explicit language and sex. Recently I’ve noticed that much of the award-winning, contemporary YA fiction seems to be getting more explicit. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing, rather just an observation. Books with drugs, drinking and sexual content appeal to teenage reasons for obvious reasons, so I am just happy that teens are reading at all. It is the complaints and censorship attempts that I dread.
“Shut up and stop condescending teenagers” John argues on his vblog on January 30, 2008. Over 2,000 comments from viewers also love and support Looking for Alaska for it’s ability to relate to the teenage experience. His talent to connect to teens has not remained unnoticed; Looking for Alaska has been compared to J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
I do not know how to summarize the book without spoiling the plot, so I am including a summary from borders.com.
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.
Green’s use of ‘chapters’ were unique and unconventional. Rather than following a linear progression (chapter 1, etc.), each section is titled as ‘one hundred twenty-seven days before’ and so on. This is because the entire book revolves around one central event and serves as a constant reminder of the impending disaster. Even with the book structure and foreshadowing, I honestly did not see the climax coming. It was quite brilliant in that it took the characters AND reader through a range of emotions, all the while posing philosophical questions about the meaning of life and death.
For those that love film adaptations, the movie rights to the novel were acquired by Paramount Pictures in 2005. Josh Schwartz (creator of The OC) is writing the screenplay and directing the film. A release date is expected in 2013. John Green stated on his video blog that the title has been renamed Famous Last Words, in reference to the protagonist’s interest in learning the last words of famous people (Wikipedia). UPDATE (March 2013)– ‘due to lack of interest, the production has been shelved’. Bummer.