19 October 2007

Getting Out of the Labyrinth

Books! I love them. I love to read them, love to own them, love to talk about them. I love to lend them to people, to recommend them, to read them with big classes and small groups. I loooooooove to discover new books and new authors. I’m a total book nerd. I’m *especially* nerdy when it comes to YA books and authors.

So… at least once a week, I will offer book suggestions here, with an obvious bias toward YA books. I will not write clever summaries or synopses of books, because you can find much cleverer summaries and synopses on Amazon. I’ll just be talking about why I like them, and why they’re wonderful, and why you should read them.

Starting with my future BFF John Green’s book, Looking for Alaska.

Twice in my life have I finished a book only to turn back to page one and begin reading again, D.C. al Fine. The first time was Looking for Alaska, a book that startled and enchanted me from the very first page.

The protagonist of the novel, Miles “Pudge” Halter is smart, and the friends he makes at his new school are smart. Smart funny, smart quirky, smart sexy, smart weird, but all smart. Too often I think that adults in general, and adults writing for teenagers specifically, underestimate teenage intelligence, or assume that teenagers are the shallow, blind consumers the marketing industry takes them to be. Of course there are shallow teenagers, of course there are completely uninteresting beer-can crushing conformist idiot teenagers. We all went to high school with those guys. But! The best teenagers, the funniest and most entertaining and most interesting (in my clearly biased opinion, at least) are the smart ones and the weird ones. The kids in Looking for Alaska are both.

Miles Halter grapples with the usual teenaged questions (the usual human questions), questions of sex and love, religion, spirituality, death, friendship, and loss, and he does it with the lovely blend of awkwardness and earnestness that is – in my experience, at least – the hallmark of kids who have read a great deal but haven’t lived much at all.

Of course, some people think that it’s HARD CORE PORNOGRAPHY, but don’t take their word for it.

The novel is structured in two parts: before, and after. The first half of the book counts down to the central, tragic moment – one-hundred eight days before, thirty-seven days before – and the second half counts away from it, mirroring our culture’s construction of time. (Our calendar divides time into Befores and Afters, as does our president, who turned the After into a era of his own making, justification for pretty much anything.) Along these lines, one of the central questions of the novel is How are we changed by the moment big enough, tragic enough, that it cleaves time into Before and After? How do we live with ourselves in the era of After?
It all sounds very abstract, I know, but Looking For Alaska manages to pose these questions while telling a funny, smart, sweet, and very human story.

Later, I walked toward the dorm circle beside Alaska. The cicadas hummed their one-note song, just as they had at home in Florida. She turned to me as we made our way through the darkness and said, "When you're walking at night, do you ever get creeped out and even though it's silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?"

It seemed too secret and personal to admit to a virtual stranger, but I told her, "Yeah, totally."

For a moment, she was quiet. Then she grabbed my hand, whispered, "Run run run run run," and took off, pulling me behind her.

1 comment:

SafeLibraries® said...

LFA is not hard core pornography. It does contain a few sections that might cause a movie to be X-rated. Further, it may be considered to be pervasively vulgar. By no means am I complaining about this. Rather, I enjoyed the book and think the author has got a bright future before him. It is just sad that the American Library Association awarded it as the best book of the year for kids aged 12 and up without advising people as to the X-rated content.