Monday, September 10, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Looking for Alaska

I am a fan of the Printz Awards.  If you're into young adult literature, or are involved in librarian-like pursuits, you're probably familiar with them.  Akin to the Caldecott and Newbery Awards for younger audiences, the Michael L. Printz Award is the American Library Association's award for a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."  For more information, visit the ALA's page about it.

I've previously read other Printz winners, such as the gritty Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (review available here), the quirky graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, the heartbreaking The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (that was for a class), and the bleak Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  All of those have been very good.  The book I want to share with you now is also an outstanding Printz winner, called Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I listened to the audiobook version.

Checkouts (School/public audiobook): 30
Checkouts (Charter school print):5
Typical reader: Mature teens
Source: School/public library, on audio CD

Synopsis: Miles decides to leave home and attend his junior year of high school at his father's alma mater, a boarding school in Alabama, hoping to find more to life and discover his "Great Perhaps" (a reference to the last words of Francois Rabelais).  There, he makes friends with interesting classmates, most notably the beautiful, clever, sultry Alaska Young.  This comes across as a great "slice of life" tale, until one night ...

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Does Looking for Alaska exemplify literary excellence in YA lit?  Oh, yes.  It's genuine, edgy, unafraid to look at teen issues.  While the Printz Awards can go to any genre of book, provided that the intended audience is teen/YA, this is lovably contemporary, realistic fiction.  As much as I like fantasy and dystopian novels, this had great appeal for the realism: in the characters, in the events, in the setting.

This is character-driven, and the people in Miles' life are quirky and interesting.  Miles himself, or "Pudge," as he is known at school since he's skinny,  has the unique trait of being obsessed with last words of famous people.  Alaska is extremely multifaceted, from being sweet and funny, to railing against the "patriarchal paradigm," to withdrawing into deep melancholia.  Even the allegedly one-lunged religious studies professor has his idiosyncrasies.

This is a hard book to discuss without getting into spoilers, though.  There's definitely a turning point in the novel, and the chapters/sections are even marked with "eleven days before" or "one day after."  Certainly, something momentous happens, but if you've been reading my reviews for a while, you know I try to steer clear of letting things slip if I can help it.  My advice: if you want to read this, just jump into it, and don't look at the reviews on Goodreads.  I made that mistake, and was not happy.

The audiobook version of this was good.  Not outstanding, but good.  There's a part where Miles, narrating the story, comments on someone's Southern drawl, and that most people at school didn't have such an accent.  *sigh*  Maybe it's just my acclimation to how people in the upper Midwest talk, but I swear a lot of the characters had a bit of a Southern accent.  Nice to listen to, but inaccurate.

This novel is certainly for more mature readers.  Miles and his friends live boarding school life to its fullest.  They pull pranks, smoke, drink, explore their sexuality, and examine the meaning of life, be it in pursuit of the "Great Perhaps" or a way "out of the Labyrinth."  There are also mature themes.

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