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.

21 comments:

Cathy said...

The first thing I thought of as I was reading this book was how it compared to Catcher in the Rye. I haven't read Catcher in the Rye since high school but I did not like it then and I do not like Looking for Alaska either.
1. The book was too long the first part dragged and I had to force myself to read it. I feel students would not like to do that
2. The duct tape incident was unrealalistic. Miles probably should have died. I do not belive he could have kept his head out of the water nor do believe he could have gotten out of the duct tape since it was wrapped 3 times around.
3. I felt that there was a gang connection to the book and that students would find the destructive behaviors and the code of conduct as positive.
4. the adults were irresponsible:
A. the Colonel's mother allowed Miles and Alaska to sleep in the same bed
B. She covered for her son saying he was coming home when she knew he wasn't
C. Alasks could go off campus to spend weekends with her much older boyfirend
D. Lara's parents did not seem to mind her going off campus with no good reason
E. Mile's dad contributes to the prank but does not want to know about it
F. There was no counseling offered after Alsaka's death even when Miles tells them that The Colonel is having problems ( true he was after the breathalyzer but it was left ok for him to deal with not an adult)
G. no adult at the school dealt with Alaska's self destructive behavior I can not belive that the drinking, smoking, and pranks could go totally unnoticed and left alone just because whe ratted on her room mate???
5. The pranks are cruel, mean and lfe threatening
6. There is a quote at the end about teens invincibility which is meant as something that Miles wanted Alaska to know that her energy field would live on. I felt that this justifies all the behavoirs teen are invincible- We know that they feel this way but it is not true. Maybe you could argue this as Miles thinking about energy fields and certain religious beliefs but teens do die .
If I was forced to teach this book it would be in a sociology class and I would do one of 2 things
1. I would make the analogy between the 2 fractions at the school and gangs/ I do not believe the boarding school would think of these teens as gang members but they were
A. gangs exist for the need of belonging and members become family to one another/ this was true in the book parents seemed to plant their teens at the boarding school and left all their parenting at the door. The Colonel says that it is the money that he hates about the weekend warriors but Miles and Lara appear to come from money so I think that he is really jealous that they get to go home on weekends
B. Gangs have a code of conduct about ratting with serious consequences just like what happend to Miles as a warning because someone ratted
C. Gangs use alcohol, drugs and sex to keep members from using commonsense. Members act irrespnsibly and dangerously under the influence and are self destructive
D. Gangs have their turfs and feel hatred toward other gangs. The living arragements at the school separated the weekend warriors from the others . Their was definitely hatred between Alaska and The Colonel toward the weekend warriors
E. Gang leaders have a charisma and keep their position because of their destructive behaviors similar to Alaska
F. Gang leaders are never questioned as Alaska was not questioned before she drove off drunk to her death
G. Gangs practice illeagal activities as well as hurtfull actions/ Alaska breaks into the school office to change grades, She uses Industrial strength dye, the weekend warriors almost kill Miles, they flood the dorm room.
Another way I could go is to have a list of teen behaviors and ask the students to decide on posible conseuqueces then as they read the book see what actually happens. I would include: peer pressure, group mentalitiy, drinking, code of conduct for teens. At the end we would look at these and I would ask what could have been done to save Alaska? What role did alcohol play in her death?
Did you feel that Mile's and The Colonel's reactions were realistic? Would you stop drinking if someone you cared about died because of alcohol?
I hope that there are better books to deal with these issues as I really did not like this book

Dawn said...

I have to admit that I read all five books for the summer blog course, and Looking for Alaska is my favorite. I couldn't put it down. I felt that I connected to the characters and wanted to know what happened to them. I feel like students at the high school level would be able to relate to the characters as well. I did not view Pudge, Colonel, Takumi and Alaska as part of a gang. I felt that this book showed obvious clicks and groups that form in a school, like geeks, preps, jocks etc... Students tend to find a group and stick with it just as the characters did in this book. I was happy that Miles found a group to connect with; however, I wondered why he couldn't find a group back in his high school in Florida. It is unfortunate that some of the activities that the group participated in were shady, but I was happy that he found people that he cared deeply about and considered friends. Overall, I would say every group makes mistakes and will eventually do things that they may regret. I believe Pudge, the Colonel and Takumi regret actions they took on the night of Alaska's death. Unfortnately they can't go back and change what is done, like many people can't go back and relive or redo something that they regret. I believe it is a part of life.

My favorite part of the book was the idea of Miles focusing on last words. It really made me think of what people would want to be their last words. It may be a bit morbid, but an activity could be created to get students to reflect on themselves by asking them what they wanted to be remembered for and have them create last words for their time at BHS or something like that. Students could compare their behavior and actions to what last words they picked and see if the two match up. Another self relfecting activity could be geared toward the worst and best day game played in the book. It could be a way to get students to open up about their lives.

I will admit that I do wish their was a definite answer as to whether Alaska committed suicide or was in an accident. If anyone feels that the book definitely answered this, please let me know your thoughts. I was sad because she had to live with so much guilt because of her mother's death. That incident seemed to be a huge influence on how she lived her life. It seemed to impact every relationship that she had. Speaking of her relationships, I did wonder what Alaska saw in Jake. I wanted to learn more about their relationship to try to get clues into more of her behaviors. I assume that it wasn't a strong relationship because she did cheat on him with Pudge; however, I do not feel students at that age should be committed to one person because they are young and should experience life and see what is out there.

Overall, I do not think I could read this in class due to some of the sexual content in the book. I would highly recommend it to students looking for a personal read or for an ABC project or book report. I feel like anyone could relate because to me it was all about teens searching for answers in life.

Kim Seeley said...

Wow! Where to start… As an adult, I personally liked this book. There were many “adult” concepts and while I was reading I kept thinking that I wasn’t sure if I would recommend it to my freshman, especially my 15:1 freshman. Smoking and drinking were highly glorified. The sexual happenings were also a bit too much as well. Even though the reading level was below college level, I felt this book would be more appropriate for a freshman in college vs. a freshman in high school. Lara’s accent DROVE ME INSANE! It took away from what the author was trying to say. The eeeees were way overdone. I was shocked when Alaska died. I do not read the back cover of the book ahead of time so that it doesn’t ruin things for me. I wish the “investigation” would have told us more. I thought the author did a great job conveying the emotions of all of the characters as well as the actions that take place within the story. It was a well written novel, I am just not sure of what age it would be appropriate for. Thoughts on this???

cvanslyk said...

This is a book that I would not recommend for any of my students and would definitely not use it in class. It didn't move along quickly enough for a YA novel and I think my kids with short attention spans would get tired of it. It is not an appropriate novel for high school due to the explicit descriptions of teenage sex and dangerous pranks. The duct tape incident reminded me of South Park where Kenny gets killed at least once in every episode and just pops right back to life. Some kids are very impressionable and just might try something like that. Even though Pudge didn't die in the book from this prank, in the real world he probably would have. On a positive note, many of the characters were very well developed. The Colonel was such a great person, especially the way he spoke of getting his mom a house and his kindness to Pudge. Kids could probably relate to Alaska and her feelings of guilt because of her mother's death. They could also relate to the guilt felt by the Colonel, Pudge, Lara and Takumi because of Alaska's death. The "worst day, best day" game they played could make a good topic for a journal entry. Some of Alaska's comments were very sad and foreshadowed a disaster. When she stated "You smoke to enjoy it, I smoke to die", it certainly indicated a death wish.

Amanda said...

I also enjoyed Miles' focus on last words. This concept was nicely intertwined with all of the events in the story. Thinking about that one idea can really dictate the way you live your life and affect the character you chose to have. I agree with Dawn, having students choose their last words would be a meaningful activity. It would be interesting to hear what they feel those words say about their lives. I also liked the fact that books were important to some of the characters, though many of their other actions were not admirable.
Throughout the book I kept forgetting that these were high school students and not college students. Do students at board school really have that much freedom and can they get away with that much?? I wouldn't reccommend this book for school reading but I really liked it in the end, though it took me some time to get into it.

Darla said...

Yes, where to begin.

Darla said...

I have got to be extremely honest. It's like the Emperor's New Clothes. I hate reading books with F this and F that all over it. I try hard to stay away from people who talk like that. Just because the"kids talk like that" doesn't mean that the adults have to condescend to it. I do not allow it in my classroom, so why would I try to introduce a book, even individually or in small circles, to my teenage students? As a parent, I would be very upset
to have a teacher recommend this book to my child. The story could have been written without the filthy language and still have had a plot. I did not enjoy reading it. It literally made me sick. There was nothing brillant about it, just another teenage novel about "kids behaving badly". I think even the students would tire of it quickly. I particularly did not like the baseball analogy at the top of page #99 since I enjoy baseball. I wonder if I can ever watch a baseball game again without thinking about getting to the four bases. Truly, I am disappointed in our society by the lack of decent behavior. As adults we need to promote decency and model it for them, not try to "hook" them or trick them into reading. Bring back the classics if there isn't anything worth reading today. I've started The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. That books seems much better. I am sorry that I don't have more to say, but when I read, I would like it to be enjoyable. I think that should be the purpose of the reading and the author's intent.

rebeccakryger said...

Sorry it took me a bit to respond...I've had my nose stuck in Harry Potter all week. Now that I'm finished, here is my response to Looking for Alaska.

I enjoyed reading this book, though I definitely agree that the content is much more adult than Big Mouth and Ugly Girl. The private school setting and behaviors of the characters reminded me much more of freshman in college than high school students, but I think much of what the students experience is realistic to what happens when there isn't any parental supervision.

The characters were developed well. I liked how Pudge was able to fit in at the school and also how the Colonel took Pudge under his wing without judging Pudge. I constantly felt sorry for Alaska. She was so bright and full of promise, but was so lost in her life and unable to get past her tragedy. In the end, I would hope students would notice the way such wreckless behaviors can lead to tragic outcomes (for Alaska) and immense guilt (for Colonel, Pudge, and Takumi).

There were aspects of the novel that I didn't like. The countdown to "after" seemed to take forever. Starting so many days from the incident was a bit daunting for the reader. Organization was one of this novel's pitfalls. I also thought the constant pranking was a bit overdone and the lack of punishment somewhat unrealistic.

I don't really see the school groups as gangs. As Dawn pointed out, it is probably closer to the cliques that are present in every school. Often groups are given a label as they were in this novel.

I would not feel comfortable teaching this novel in class because of the mature nature of the content. I would only recommend it to students who I felt were mature enough to handle the episodes of drinking, smoking, etc. Our students (some at least) deserve credit in recognizing that the students in the novel were not often making the best decisions. Our students would hopefully be able to learn something from the devastating effects of the students actions. I don't think most students would read this novel and then want to follow suit. However, I would probably not offer this title to any student younger than a junior. I think seniors would get the most out of it as it seems to parallel freshman college student behaviors (more, at least, than I think it is representative of high school).

Jim West said...

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this book. The characters were well developed, and I found myself wanting to know more and more about them, especially Alaska. There was so much about her that was never said, that I kept wanting to read further to see if there would be more insight into her character. The "before and after" part really kept me going, because I was constantly curious as to what the event might be, knowing that it must be something significant. I was tempted to jump ahead and take a peek but I forced myself not to.

Some of the messages presented were extrardinary; the colonel taking Miles under his wing, wanting to buy a house for his mom, including some of the life experiences that the characters went through, and how they dealt with them. I liked the strong friendships that developed.

I was shocked and saddened when Alaska died. I did not see it coming until just before it occurred. I felt like I lost someone that I was really interesting in getting to know, like she was a good friend.

All of this being said, I would not recommend this to any students and I would not use it in an English class. I felt that some of the material was way too explicit for high schoolers, not to mention all the bad behavior....drinking, smoking, sex, and playing nasty pranks on people. Just because kids start having oral sex by middle school age, and take part in smoking and drinking does not make it right for "us", the role models, to be sharing such things with them through our curriculum. I tried to imagine how I would think about this book from a high schoolers perspective...and this is what I came up with:
1. Everyone smokes, it is cool to smoke, even Miles who didn't smoke, gave in. And now my teacher is having us read this book where all they do is smoke, right in the dorm/shower rooms!!
2. Oral Sex....as a male reader, being in a high school aged mind, this would have been the "climax" of the book! Again, the thought is I know kids are doing it, but now even the teacher supports it to some extent, as we are reading it in English class....
3. The swearing....again, the kids do it, but I don't condone it so shouldn't I be a good role model, not do it myself, and not allow it in class? Free speech or not, it is not appropriate to walk around saying the F word in every sentence.

I know that we want to "hook" the kids into reading because it is so important, but at what cost? By presenting such books, and reading them in class with our students we are sending a hidden message that yes, these things are going on, and it is okay because we read about them in English class! Many of our kids engage in these things already, and we should not present "entertainment" to them that supports such things.

Although I really enjoyed the book from a adult perspective, I would not recommend this book to high school students, and as a parent, I would NOT want my son or daughter coming home being made to read such a book. I want my kids reading appropriate material, even if it means reading old time classics that are clean.

Cathy said...

Sorry it took so long to reply for some reason I have to re- sign up everytime I write. I wanted to clarify my use of the term gang. What is the differnce from Miles being almost killed as a warning because someone ratted on the other group and a gang shooting or killing another gang membber as a warning because someone ratted? i do not see a difference especially to the person who was injured. I feel the word clique is too mild with not enough negative connotaion to be used to describe the behaviors of the characters in this book. I agree with with ereyone that this book is not one for high school. I especially liked Jim's reasons.
Kathy what is the criteria for the award that this book earnied?

Becky said...

Sorry for the delay in the post..i got confused on the dates. I enjoyed reading Looking for Alaska and thought it was an entertaining although some what unrealistic book. I would not recommended it to students or use it in class due to the content. Although I do not think that the activities in the book are far off from activities our students partake in I do not think the school should condone these types of things. I do see the merit in the books being able to relate to the students because it does contain so many topics that high school students think are important. (sex, smoking...)So overall, while I can see that students may enjoy reading this book, as a teacher I would not recommended it based on the content covered. Even with this I am torn however because I can see the relation to Catcher in the Rye, which I read in high school and enjoyed and is read in high schools all over...

Kathy J. said...

I just got back from vacation...a wonderfully relaxing week in Maine...lots of reading on the beach! I too finished Harry Potter...Rebecca, we'll have to chat about that too!

I thought we would have wireless access at our cottage, but unless I stood on the dock with my finger in my ear, facing east, on one leg, the reception was non-existent! So, I am just now catching up. Cathy asked for for the criterea for the Prinz award:

The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. I've copied the criteria from their website:

"Criteria: What is quality? We know what it is not. We hope the award will have a wide AUDIENCE among readers from 12 to 18 but POPULARITY is not the criterion for this award. Nor is MESSAGE. In accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, CONTROVERSY is not something to avoid. In fact, we want a book that readers will talk about.

Librarianship focuses on individuals, in all their diversity, and that focus is a fundamental value of the Young Adult Library Services Association and its members. Diversity is, thus, honored in the Association and in the collections and services that libraries provide to young adults.

The book should be self-contained, not dependent on other media for its meaning or pleasure. The book should not be considered in terms of other works by the author but as complete in itself.

Having established what the award is not, it is far harder to formulate what it is. As every reader knows, a great book can redefine what we mean by quality. Criteria change with time. Therefore, flexibility and an avoidance of the too-rigid are essential components of these criteria (some examples of too-rigid criteria: A realistic hope -well, what about Robert Cormier's Chocolate War or Brock Coles' The Facts Speak for Themselves? Avoiding complicated plot - what about Louis Sachar's Holes? Originality - what about all the mythic themes that are continually re-worked? We can all think of other great books that don't fit those criteria.)

What we are looking for, in short, is literary excellence.

All forms of writing B fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and any combination of these, including anthologies B are eligible.

The following criteria are only suggested guidelines and should in no way be considered as absolutes. They will always be open to change and adaptation. Depending on the book, one or more of these criteria will apply:

Story Voice Style
Setting Accuracy Characters
Theme Illustration Design (including format, organization, etc.)

For each book the questions and answers will be different, the weight of the various criteria will be different."

FYI- John Green's second book- An Abundance of Katherines- was an honor book for this same award this year.

I've had time to read and digest some of your comments...and I don't know if I am getting desensitized or what...but the language and sexual content of the book did not bother me to the extent that it did others. I think I read "around it." It is rare to find a YA book these days that does not contain some of this content. But, on the other hand, I think teens are reading more and more than ever before...and perhaps it is because authors are writing what is real to them.
Food for thought.

There is something in the criteria above that talks about controversy-
"CONTROVERSY is not something to avoid. In fact, we want a book that readers will talk about."
I thought that was an interesting idea. I haven't had the chance to discuss this book with any teenagers...but I'm curious as to what they think. It certainly is controversial!

The idea I've been mulling over all week is the reference someone made to the role of the parents in this novel. It got me to thinking about their role in YA literature in general. In this book, as well as Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, the parents are not the focus of the story at all...the story happens around them, almost in spite of them. This is the case in many of the YA novels I've read (and if you read ahead to our next book...)Once again, I wonder if this is a technique authors' use to connect to teenagers and/or to move the story along by suspending reality of the "authority" figure? I'd love to ask an author or two this question!

Please feel free to comment again! Our next blog will be for The Boy in Striped Pajamas...August 7th.

Pam L said...

Sorry I'm so late. I've been having trouble getting my comments to load.
Pam

Pam L said...

Wow! I don't know what happened but I'm finally in so here goes...there were so many things I loved about this book. I loved Pudge--he was a normal kid but a real thinker so you don't just get to see what happens to him and how he feels about it, he's actually trying to figure out how he and everyone around him fits in to this big ugly-beautiful thing called "life." The fact that a teenager "collects" people's last words is unique to say the least. I was hooked on his character from chapter 1. He was what my Irish grandmother would call an "old soul." In other words, you feel as if he's been through this life before.

Sounds like people were disturbed by the content and language. I might not choose this as a class read and there may be some students I suspect are vulnerable so I wouldn't suggest it as a "book report read" for them. But I have to say that by the time I got into middle school I don't remember my parents ever saying I couldn't read this or that because of language or content. I read everything and still do and that's why I know there's something out there for everyone to read. My grandmother read Edgar Allan Poe to me when I was 8 or younger--I don't know if that's age appropriate; however, I can remember walking around for days thinking about different phrases from "Annabel Lee" and what they meant. My grandmother gave me some answers but sometimes she just shrugged her shoulders. I still have that Poe collection and I use it every year when I teach Poe. Am I comparing Poe to John Green? No. But I think I agree with Kathy. Maybe I've become desensitized and don't "hear" the cuss words, and maybe I just like to see kids read. There's still a very LARGE place in my curriculum for the classics and there always will be but I love to meet new authors who create characters with strong voice and big heart. LOOKING FOR ALASKA is original, entertaining, and thought-and-discussion-provoking so I loved it.

With all that said, there were some parts that did disturb me and when I started thinking about how I'd handle them in a classroom, I started realizing how this book has so many scenes that would be great springboards for discussion (for a more mature class, that is). I did not like when Pudge was tied up and thrown in the pond--I most definitely would have drowned. That's an inspiration for all kinds of discussion about when a prank is appropriate; when they become dangerous; who, if anyone, is an appropriate victim. We as adults know a joke(prank) is only funny when everyone is left laughing, victim included. Teenagers ignore this fact, in some cases or set out to try to humiliate the victim--that's not funny. In the "pond case," we had a retaliatory response to something that Pudge obviously had nothing to do with--so that's criminal.

I was also disappointed in Pudge's treatment of Lara after Alaska's death, but in retrospect I realized that in grief even the most thoughtful person can become cruel. So I decided that was pretty realistic.

Of course, Alaska's reckless behavior really bothered me but I can't say it was all unrealistic. I figured out before we were told why she took off like a nut the night she was killed and just didn't buy that it was because she forgot to put flowers on a grave. I needed something more than that.

Wouldn't we have a great time discussing these in person too! Could get heated, I bet!!

Pam

Lisa said...

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Lisa said...

This was a great read!!! I couldn't put it down because I wanted to see what the "after" was regarding. I truly enjoyed the characters and was happy that Miles was finally accepted. Due to the sexual content, I could never use this novel with my students. I agree with Kathy that it would be a great supplement with a novel like A Separate Peace. A Separate Peace was one of my favorite books in high school. I think that is one of the reasons I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska. One sentence in the book really struck me, o.k., now let's see if I can find it...Alaska said, "Y'all smoke to to enjoy it. I smoke to die." I knew her pattern of self-destructive behavior and anger would lead to her eventual death. Her death was extremely characteristic of her...she always kept people guessing.
I think the pranks were a bit unrealistic, especially the consequences. Many of the aspects of this novel were very realistic though...the cliques, the drinking, feeling of being invincible, the search for the meaning of life, the "Great Perhaps, etc.
I too, really liked the focus on last words. I love Dawn's ideas for class activities.
Overall, this book contained valuable lessons for all students.

Cathy said...

Wow I guess this book does generate controversy as this is the 3rd time I am responding to reviews. Some reviewers have used the word "desensitized' and that really bothers me. Kids are becoming too desensitized they use 4 letter words and do not even realize they are using them becuase it is such a part of their languange. Violence and sex on TV, movies and video games have desensitized teens and younger children. I am not one for censorship but I do think it is time to "resensitize" (my word) teens. Does Harry Potter use 4 letter words, sex and drinking like Looking for Alaska???? I think the author could have gotten his point and gotten readers without going to the lower common denominator.

As to parents in YA books. I had no problem with the parents in Ugly... because they were seen through the eyes of a teenager. However in Looking... it was parental actions that bothered me and there was no teen interpretation to them. Pudge's mother saying he was going home when she knew he was not, Mile's father going along with the prank no questions asked, Alaska being allowed weekends with her much too old boyfriend and Lara's faminly ok with her being away from school with no reason. This was irresponsible parenting . It gives the idea that if you are smart as these teens were that you can take care of yourself. Teens are not adults and they do need supervision and guidance. In my opinion these kids were screaming for guidance Mile's not going hme for Thanksgiving and them upset his parents went a way. I think he wanted them to say no come home. Pudge justifying his mother's actions by saying she trusts me???Alaska's guilt stemming from her father's blaming her for her mother's death. Even though he took it back it would seem he needed to do more not send her away to school.
While I concede that you could have a lot of discussion with this book I think that there are better books without the lanaguage that could be used at least I hope so.

rebeccakryger said...

Kathy, you make a great point about controversy. There are a few things that make a novel great/memorable: 1)it keeps you thinking even when you've run out of pages, 2)it makes you wish you had someone reading right beside you so you could have someone to talk to every time you left with a question, comment, or moment of frustration with the plot/characters (this is one great thing about blogging!!), and 3)the book is not filled with smooth corners and neat, happy situations. I liked the controversy in this novel and, as Kathy pointed out, the focus on the YAs instead of the parents. Teens want to read about teens because that is what they can relate to. These are the types of books we should be putting in the hands of reluctant readers...trust me when I say it would be much easier to get kids to read Looking for Alaska outside of school than The Great Gatsby! I am not anti-classics; however, I think in order for students to appreciate the classics they must also see the value in reading. Books with YA protagonists are the way we reel them in. Kathy, thanks for the award criteria. I can see why this novel was an appropriate winner.

rebeccakryger said...

Just a note on Harry Potter...
the novel did use "effing" (an obvious reference to the "F" word) several times, which I must say surprised me. It also used a few mild words here and there...and HP's audience is probably Middle level. I think that in order for Looking for Alaska to represent an accurate young adult voice some swearing was necessary. How many of your students never use a swear word? Especially when no adults are around??

Sorry for another entry...I can't help myself :)

Dawn said...

After reading more comments on this book, I am surprised that I am one of the few people that would actually recommend it to students. Yes, it is a controversial book; however, I think it is a great springboard for discussion. I would rather have students talking to me about drinking, drugs and sex verses not hearing about it at all or experimenting on their own. I realize that teens are going to experiment with these things on their own, but I would love to be able to teach a few students about responsible behavior. I think this book would help in that discussion.
As for parenting in the book, or lack thereof, unfortunately there are students that live in similar situations. It is hard for me to believe because I was raised by two great parents, but I also had friends that the parents let them get away with things that I couldn't even fathom. I believe that as time has passed there seems to be more students with parents that are not in their lives or do not care what their child does. It is sad, but this is another reason why I would like to be a role model or responsible adult for students to turn to. Don't get me wrong, I do not think I can save the world or help everyone, but if I could help one student make the right choice when it comes to drinking and driving or drugs then I would feel good. I think this book would hook some students into reading, as well as get many to open up about the issues they face as teenagers.

Kathy J. said...

Wow! This book has really generated some great discussion. I've been reading over everyones comments and thinking again about the role of the parents in this book...and I have to say I still believe the author's intent is to give them a background role...just to move the plot along. I don't think teens are going to focus on what the parents allowed or didn't allow the kids to do. I would love to get some teenagers perspective on this!

I truly understand what Cathy and Darla are saying about the use of vulgarity and sex in these novels, but on the other hand I know these are the books kids want to read, this type of writing speaks to them...good, bad or otherwise! And...this is what they're reading. And I think, at the end, what they'll remember is not whether or not the characters swore but how they were developed, what they did, and how they grew as a result of what they went through.

I would also recommend this book to students. I think we need to give them more credit. they will recognize that it is a work of fiction, and if the issues raise some questions and force them to think about consequenses etc...more the better.

I am thrilled we have this venue to discuss these issues. What a great opportunity to batter things back and forth. This particular discussion has certainly raised my level of awareness.

Stay tuned for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.