Alum’s Alaska Provokes and Entertains
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
This is the debut of a series that will review books written by Kenyon authors.
Some parents label Looking For Alaska, the first novel of John Green ’00, as obscene and therefore unsuitable for its teenage readership. Concerned adults have campaigned, mostly unsuccessfully, to have the book removed from high school reading lists. Despite the allegedly mature content of his work, New York Times bestselling author Green enjoys mainstream success amongst teenagers.
Alaska, which was released in March 2005, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award, gained placement on the American Library Association’s 2005 10 Best Books for Young Adults list and will become a Paramount movie slated for release in 2013.
Alaska is unlike most literature popular among college-aged students: it is listed as a young-adult book and is clearly meant to be read as such. The novel follows a young, somewhat socially awkward teenage boy named Miles “Pudge” Halter during his first year at boarding school. There, he is exposed to the more clandestine elements of adolescence — alcohol, cigarettes and, of course, a predictably suffocating amount of sexual tension. Pudge’s teenage love interest is Alaska Young, the titular character whose uninhibited personality dominates the book’s plot.
Slowly, the naïve Miles discovers a smattering of his peers’ personal struggles from which he had previously been sheltered in his mundane suburban life. For instance, his trailer-bound best friend Chip “The Colonel” Martin dreams of providing financial support for his single mother in the future, Alaska struggles with a disturbing event from her childhood and socioeconomic differences cause rifts among the student body. Furthermore, midway through the book, after a cute but fairly uneventful exposition, a horrifying tragedy strikes. This tragedy literally divides the book into sections labeled “Before” and “After.”
Looking for Alaska is eloquently written and delivers an engaging story with a strong moral backdrop, exploring themes like socioeconomic inequality, religion, youth, maturity, life, death, sex and love. Nevertheless, Green’s intended audience remains unclear, which can confuse readers. When defending his book against the complaints of parents offended by its inclusion in schools’ curricula, Green claims that Alaska was written for and marketed toward adult readers only. But the plot and the writing’s lack of sophistication counter that claim. While the story is interesting and fairly original, the plot is often predictable, and the writing is not particularly challenging. Despite the ambiguity surrounding the book’s intended audience, prospective readers should expect to be entertained and to glean deeper meaning from Alaska.