“I Go to Seek a Great Perhaps” Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

 

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.

Twenty Boy Summer

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (2009) 

Don’t let the fluffy title of the book deceive you. Before reading the synopsis, I assumed it was a quick fun summer read about a teen girl exploring her sexuality. I had no idea that Sarah Ockler’s beautiful writing and story would bring me to the verge of tears, break my heart and stitch it back up again.

From the back cover: According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago. Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer. — Little, Brown and Company

Twenty Boy Summer centres on relationships, love, grief and death.  It was excellently written, especially the dialogue between the characters. Although there are many memorable quotes throughout the whole novel, my two favourites were:

Nothing ever really goes away – it just changes into something else. Something beautiful.”

 “Sometimes I think we all feel guilty for being happy, and as soon as we catch ourselves acting like everything’s okay, someone remembers it’s not”.

I was impressed that Twenty Boy Summer was Sarah Ockler’s debut novel. She demonstrated the rare ability to get the reader quickly attached to the characters/story and take them on a raw emotional roller coaster.  I was so intrigued with the outcome that I read the book in just over a day. It’s been a week since I finished the book, and I still find myself thinking about Anna and Frankie.

On a personal level, Twenty Boy Summer had a profound affect on me. Like Matt, my best friend’s brother died in a tragic car accident a couple of years ago. The grief the family demonstrated felt very authentic. I could relate to the difficulty Anna experienced in trying to comfort her best friend through the pain and sadness.

The only issue I have with the book is the appropriateness of the subject matter for the intended audience (12+). From the publisher’s description, the reader has no idea that the girls are trying to meet 20 boys so Anna can lose her ‘albatross’ (virginity). Frankie said she lost hers a few months ago and they believe, at sixteen, it’s past time for Anna to lose hers too. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend Twenty Boy Summer to readers looking for a realistic portrayal of teen friendships, secrets, love, and loss. I would just advise that they are mature enough to handle the content matter.

POSTPONED!!! Upcoming CLA Workshop in Ottawa – Libraries & Teens: Making the most of library services for teens and young adults‏

 

************UPDATE******************

Due to funding issues, the CLASY event will be postponed until January 2011.

First off, I apologize for the lack of postings. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks round here. I currently have a HUGE stack of library books that are calling out my name. I’ve chose Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, so look for a review soon! 🙂

Ok, so now for the CLASY event. I posted about the group a while back but now that the event details have been arranged, I can share this info with you! 

Libraries & Teens: Making the most of library services for teens and young adults

How and why should libraries recognize and advocate for teens as assets in the community? What can we do to make sure that the library becomes an asset in teens’ lives?

This one-day event will explore how libraries are rethinking goals, re-prioritizing resources, redesigning spaces, and reaching out to this very important client group.

Speakers will:

    * Share strategies for planning and maintaining strong teen programming.
    * Explain how to formalize a commitment to youth as part of strategic goals and plans.
    * Share successful models of service and identify ways to connect and communicate with teens.
    * Explore trends in reading material for teens.

This workshop is also an opportunity to connect with fellow library professionals who are excited and passionate about teen services. Roundtable discussions and poster presentations will allow for further brainstorming, conversation and sharing of ideas.

Date: Monday, October 4, 2010, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
More information: http://www.cla.ca/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Libraries_and_Teens&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=10011

I will be volunteering at the event. I plan on working on my networking skills as there seems to be many opportunities to mix and mingle!  See you there! 🙂

Show Me How To….

I may have found the ultimate coffee-table book….

The entertaining book,  Show Me How by Lauren Smith provides bright, fun, visual instructions to accomplish a wide variety of projects (500 in total, ranging from useful to down-right wacky!).  Need to know how to treat a snake bite? No? Well how about twisting balloon animals? Or, how to make the perfect bed?

Since the instructions for each entry are somewhat limited, the book should not be used as the ultimate how-to reference source for any subject. In my opinion, some of the entries could have benefited from being a little more detailed. I am not comfortable with the idea of reducing the life-saving Heimlich Maneuver to five pictures, coupled with vague instructions. Overall, you can gain a general idea of how to do something, but some of the diagrams cannot stand alone.

 Click here to see a sample for yourself (courtesy of Amazon). My favourite is the ‘How to Identify Men’s Facial Hair Styles’.

As you can see, this graphic art/reference book would be awesome for those with short attention spans, and those who love learning. It would also make a great graduation gift or perhaps Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy teen on your list.

Even though I’ve had this book for quite a while, I still find myself picking up and flipping through this attractive, fun, informative step-by-step instruction book to learn new skills.

After all, you never know when a gal needs to get out of a straight jacket.

***FYI: Volume 2 of Show Me How (Because there’s a lot more to know) will be available October 2010

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