Sunday, July 22, 2007

Looking for Alaska

I don't know were to begin. I confess I put off reading this book when it first was published, in spite of the fact that it got "starred" reviews and won the coveted Printz Award for Young Adult literature. I hesitated reading it because someone compared it to Catcher in the Rye, and Miles to Caulfield....and I was never a fan of that book! Sorry! This book, however, struck something in me. It was slow starting, but when I got hooked, I couldn't put it down. I am glad I finally read it!

I loved the language Greene uses, and Mile's voice. I loved the characters. I felt, by the end of the book, that I knew them. I admit, there were parts of the book that bothered me, for example, I was getting a little tired of Alaska's hollow feminists views...she had such potential to set the world on fire. I loved the passage on page 55 in which she says, "Jesus, I'm not going to be one of those people who sit around talking about what they're gonna do. I'm just going to do it. Imaging the future is kind of nostalgia....You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present." I related to this concept, and the language Greene uses to express it. I found myself reading the passage over and over just to digest it. I loved this fiery part of Alaska...but then again, her risky, self-destructive behavior was frustrating. I was very angry at her for dying!

As I said earlier, I think Greene's use of language and the dialog between characters is sharp and funny. However, what drew me most to this book centers around it's characters (how could you not love a rapping Asian kid who know nothing about computers?! And the Colonel wanting to buy his mom a house...that being his "best day!") Greene does a phenomenal job getting me to care for these kids. I want to know about them. I want to know them as adults...are they successful? Happy? Greene does a great job drawing them out and unfolding them to the reader.

This may seem trite, but what really touched me was the fact the Miles became part of a group and had friends. I was elated when The Colonel took him under his wing and included him. I was so afraid that he would remain friendless at this school too. I kept waiting for the other foot to drop but it never did. I was proud that he went looking for the "Great Perhaps" and was so relieved that he was part of a group...even with all the ups and downs associated with this particular group.

I know the author does use some explicit scenes so I would not recommend this for younger students but I think high school students could handle it. I don't think it would prevent me from recommending it to students. What do you think? Perhaps it might make a great companion piece to Catcher in the Rye, or even maybe, A Separate Piece???

I'll stop here to see what others thought.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

This was Joyce Carol Oates first foray into young adult fiction and was met with very positive reviews! It was a very timely topic to say the least...and still is.

I loved the book! I thought Oates did a great job developing the characters of Ursula and Matt. I was drawn to Ursula's character and immediately felt great compassion for her, and for Matt as well. We all know how easily words can be misconstrued and come back to haunt you...and we all know how hard it is to be different. I wanted to stand up and cheer when Ursula had the conviction to stand up for Matt and speak to the principal. I really liked how the relationship slowly developed between Matt and Ursula. I liked how Oates interwove the emails into the story...they were honest and gave great insight into the minds and insecurities of teenagers.

Although overall I liked this novel, and wouldn't think twice about recommending it to students, there were things that did bother me. I thought Ursula's relationship with her father was odd. Early in the book you have the sense that it is strained to say the least. However at the end you're given the impression that things are just fine between them. I thought this was odd...unless as Ursula's character develops and evolves from an angry, "ugly" girl Oates alters her point of view of her father?! Perhaps this is also true of her relationship with the basketball team?

Anxious to see what you all think!