Friday, July 11, 2008

on looking for alaska.

Wow. This book was recommended to me by a friend who reads the blog and, to put it mildly, it did not disappoint. The book could easily be described as a coming-of-age tale, but that would be quite the disservice to the book and its author. The book takes on an old concept and updates it (note the careful temporal placements via PlayStation 2 references, etc.) with success that I haven't seen in a long time, if ever. When people talk about classics, there's a reason they talk about books that have long since been written. If people were a little less uptight, this book might have a chance to get to that place. However... People are not less uptight and (I'm not giving away anything vital to the plot, trust me) there are scenes in this book of a blow job (it's actually some of the funniest writing that I've ever read, to be honest), the kids are quite mouthy in the way the kids nowadays are but that older people have no trouble (and nor should they) saying they just really don't care for, and there's tons of anarchistic-type of behavior not only recorded but encouraged. The girl, Alaska, likes to get her drink on almost as much as she proclaims to like sex, and the boys are down to drink as well. More than that (and I guess this reveals a lot more about me than the book itself, that this bothered me), there's a lot of smoking (tobacco, not pot) that goes on in the book. It bothered me, yes, but I'm also perfectly willing to admit that it happens. All the time. And that's fine. It's real. It's representative.

The main character, Miles Halter is a smart kid who likes last words. I know, odd character trait, right? But it was just the right detail to be like, "Oh yeah, I know people who are weird with the things they know, just like that!" He gets tired of being a smart kid that no one really likes or gets, and so he sets his sights on boarding school at Culver Creek, just like his dad did, in search of some last words that he's focusing on: "The Great Perhaps."

While there, he meets interesting, fully-fleshed out characters, believably smart and damaged at the same time, and actually learns. He learns in school and he learns in his social settings. Reading this book right now was not the best thing in the world for me (again), as it really did make me think, "Ah, yes...this is what a true education is supposed to look like." Even the semi-bad-guy (he's not, really, not at all) role that's filled by the dean of the school, whom they call the Eagle, is interestingly developed and he's fleshed out by the way the children talk about him, even though we rarely (never?) have direct access to him. It's the sign of a good author when we're able to feel like a third-tier character has been successfully integrated into the plot, without missing a beat.

The book is divided into two sections: Before and After. Before reading, I looked it up on Amazon.com and read the summary and all I can say about that is - I must have missed some things. I was taken aback by the plot, the developments surprised me in all the best ways, and the latter half of the book was intensely emotional.

Overall, a whole-hearted recommendation for Looking for Alaska by John Green.

EDIT: I'm starting my new book today (it's by this woman Robyn Schneider, who so far seems kind of...uh...crazy) and her website pointed me toward her YouTube account, where she had a video up, responding to something called "I Am Not A Pornographer". So, it was interesting to watch that, but then even more so to see the original video from John Green himself. The video brings up a lot of great points, and made me curious as to what happened with this case. John's blog indicates that all's well that ends well.

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