Friday, January 2, 2015

Banned Book #3: "Looking for Alaska"

by Pa Rock

I've just completed the third of ten "banned" books that I plan on reading prior to the next "Banned Books Week" in October.   Looking for Alaska by John Green is, like so many controversial novels, banned in some schools while being taught in others.  The story of a group of high school students, boys and girls - juniors and seniors - going to a private boarding school in Alabama is vaguely reminiscent of another well-known and often-banned work of fiction that has a focus of daily life in a boarding school, John Knowles' A Separate Peace.  

Miles, the central character in this story, is a socially awkward young man who transfers into Culver Creek at the beginning of his junior year.   He has a hobby of memorizing the last words of famous individuals.  He chose to leave home and attend the same boarding school his father went to as a way to shake things up in his life and seek out "the great perhaps."  His assigned roommate in the dorm is an equally socially awkward young man named Chip, but called "the Colonel."  

There are two distinct groups of students who attend Culver Creek, and a rivalry between those groups permeates much of the novel.   Some of them are from distant locations, like Miles (a.k.a. "Pudge"), and are only able to go home for family visits during major holidays.  The other group, the "Weekday Warriors," are students who live close by and go home most weekends.  Pranking is a big activity at Culver Creek, and it often is committed by members of one of those groups against members of the other.

Looking for Alaska portrays the life of high school students in a realistic manner, which is undoubtedly the reason that some entities have chosen to ban it.  The book contains a bit of graphic sex, a little pot-smoking, rampant cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, the use of offensive language, and a lingering disrespect for the school’s administrator.   There is also a major focus on the death of a student in a drunk-driving incident.  But again, it is all very real and relevant to the lives of ordinary kids struggling to reach adulthood in today’s world.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants their children to be exposed to everyday life in the modern world.    They often meet the challenge to their “values” by demanding that the offending material be taken out of reach of everyone’s children. 

But, narrow minds aside, Looking for Alaska, is a good read, one that most people would enjoy and one that seeks to enlighten all of us about the joys and concerns of today’s youth.  I certainly would encourage my grandchildren to read it as they are finding their way through those awkward teenage years.

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