21 September 2009

I love you, Alaska Young.

Our first "assigned" book for the semester in The Adolescent in American Literature was "Looking for Alaska" by John Green, and I must admit, the man has style.

The narrator, Miles Halter, begins boarding at Culver Creek his junior year, on a search for the "Great Perhaps." He finds friends for the first time in his life--particularly his roommate, the Colonel, and his love interest, Alaska--who bestow upon him the ironic nickname "Pudge." These three teenagers, with varying backgrounds and histories, spend the "Before" sharing secrets, falling in love and misbehaving; they spend the "After" theorizing, feeling guilty and mourning as best they know how.

Green's use of repetition is powerful and beautiful and emotionally thrilling--at the end of the "Before" Pudge repeats "We did not say," followed by the what-ifs that weigh on all of our hearts at one point or another. Throughout the novel he uses the device in similar ways, but never quite as striking. I also liked the general style of the book; the "teenager" language doesn't feel forced or fake, rather pulsing slowly, with an appropriate crescendo and decrescendo, lyrical, but harsh.

The story, though somewhat unique, has elements to which everyone can relate. The simultaneous (or loosely separated) feelings of elation and bottomless despair are familiar to anyone who has ever experienced growing up.

Though students will be very interested in this book, I doubt that it could be taught (due to the sexuality and expletives). It's worth having around the classroom and worth recommendation, particularly to students struggling with a significant loss.