Looking for Alaska
John Green
2005
Printz Award

Looking for Alaska is an edgy, messy book. No doubt. However, it is also a book that explores the big issues of life in a very indepth manner. Before you write off a book such as this, it’s worth exploring what makes it good and so appealing to so many young adults.

First of all, Green knows teens. Dialogue is perfect. “Chapters” are short. Adults are in the background, mostly. The setting is captivating: Culver Creek boarding school complete with lake and “mad” swan. Rules are enforced, but those in the know can get around them. Characters are compelling: Miles/Pudge is searching for the Great Perhaps and is misunderstood by his parents. He came here as part of his quest (and his father went to Culver Creek as well). The “Colonel” is Miles’ roommate, from a trailer park, loved by his mother, and full of brilliant ideas for pranks. Alaska is a girl who’s trying to find the way out of this labyrinth of suffering, a compulsive drinker, and a troubled soul. Throw in a few more friends, an astute religion teacher, and the usual teen angst, and you’ve got a winning combination.

There is a tragedy in this book, and the big questions in life are front and center: what is the meaning of life? How do we escape this labyrinth of suffering? Is there any life after death? How do we know? How do we get there? What makes a true friend? Can you prevent someone else’s suffering? What makes for true intimacy?

Things to Note/Discuss

  • most Christian parents/teachers I know will never approve of this book: tons of language, a descriptive (oral) sex scene, drinking/smoking, etc. So, it’s worth warning you.
  • On the other hand, if you do want to pursue this book, and/or your son/daughter pursues it, ask some of those questions in that last paragraph above. You cannot escape them in this book–it is a book kids will want to discuss. You can’t help it.
  • A word about the sex scene in this book: John Green has a very engaging video in which he discusses this scene. His attempt in the scene is partly to show how devoid of real intimacy the physical act of sex is without any sort of emotional connection/intimacy.
  • John Green has a very popular online presence with teens. He is an author they are aware of, even if they haven’t read his books (yet). So, it’s worth paying attention to him and reading one or two of his books. I know some teens at church who haven’t yet read his books but know who he is because “he’s funny” and online….

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