Looking for Alaska
by John Green
YA fiction. 221 pp.
From the flap copy:
Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words--and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.
Looking for Alaska is the recipient of this year's Printz award. I don't know if I would necessarily say it's the best in young adult fiction that I've seen this year, but it is good. The characters are fascinating in their eccentricities. The layout of the book is slightly unusual (chapters are titled along the lines of "one hundred nine days before" and "twenty-seven days after"), which was a compelling way to create forward momentum and tension in the first part of the book. I liked how the theme was woven into the entirety of the novel, and it didn't feel trite or contrived.
There were some elements of the plot that I don't feel were adequately resolved and some bits that were left to hang. But overall, it was a good book that I enjoyed reading.
Now, that said, many people will not enjoy reading this book. One of the editors at Dutton presented at UVSC's recent Forum on Children & Literature. A member of the audience raised her concern that she just couldn't recommend the book because of its content. I enjoyed the look on his face when he essentially poo-pooed her comment. As he said, this book deals with some heavy themes about identity and relationships and what not. I realize her concern is that the kids in the book smoke and drink. I think the book neither condemns nor condones such behavior, and maybe that's what she took issue with.
And, yes, there is some exploration of sexuality in the book. In one of the sessions at the conference, Pat Castelli recommended this as one of her favorite books of the year, commenting that "strong language, sexuality, under-age drinking, etc., will make this book controversial, but the characters are vibrant and the lessons learned by those left behind are the hardest kind. The book will leave the reader thinking about many things long after the last word is read." She went on to mention that there is an oral sex scene in the novel but that it was funny. The audience tittered, gasps of horror escaping their pursed lips. But the scene is funny. (And it begins on page 126 for those interested.)
So I enjoyed this book. I do recommend it, but just read it forewarned.
Oh, and check out the author's site. As Coworker mentioned, he seems cool enough to want to set up with your friends.