Bingo Square: Banned Books
There are a few categories on the Bingo board that have looked slightly more homework like to me than others, and I had the feeling Banned Books was going to be one of them. Fortunately for me, the Top Ten Most Challenged lists of books contain quite a few modern YA novels because of course teachers would want to include current novels to appeal to their students. I had already read a few of them, and some of the choices were skewed a bit younger than I wanted to go, so after years of being contrarian and basically refusing to read John Green, I finally read his novel, Looking for Alaska – no cancer. I admit I approached this novel with some hesitation because when the book description includes this line, “the gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young” to describe its main female character, it’s hard not to think manic pixie dream girl, especially when the male narrator is waiting for something to happen in his life.
For his junior year, Miles decides to go the same boarding school his father attended for high school, leaving behind Florida for Birmingham, Alabama. His roommate, Chip or the Colonel, ends up taking him under his wing a bit more than intended, and Miles gets quickly wrapped up with Chip, Alaska, and Takumi, becoming part of their clique. The school is basically a mix of the rich local kids who go home for the weekends, and the scholarship kids who spend their weekends at the school as well. There is some rivalry between the two, and the school year is littered with pranks between the Colonel and Alaska, and a group of “Weekend Warriors” (although, shouldn’t they be Weekday Warriors if they aren’t at school on the weekend?).
In some ways, it was a rather standard coming of age story. The shy kid somehow ends up part of a group with large personalities, all of whom are brilliant, rebellious forces of nature. Though Alaska has a boyfriend, Miles continues to pine for her and revels in any alone time he has with her but also does not know how to handle her mood swings. Alaska even calls him out on it once or twice, stating that he likes the one version of her, but not the gloomy one. Other friends call him out at various points as well. So while Miles is very much turning Alaska into his unattainable dream girl in his head, his friends call him out on it at various points.
The novel is divided into two parts with headings such as “100 days before” – I was hoping the event being counted down to would be significant but not horrific, but either way, there’s this sense of impending tragedy – will one of the scholarship kids get kicked out for a prank, is something else going to go wrong, or is Miles counting down to something good, like the day he gets the girl?
Overall, I liked the story, and Miles is shown to have flaws throughout, especially in how he sometimes treats others. I’m not sure I’m going to read more John Green any time soon, but I certainly get the appeal since he does write characters it is hard not to feel attached to, even if they are also reminiscent of certain archetypes. In some ways, I wish the novel could have been from the perspective of the Colonel, so the reader would have had a view of Alaska from a best friend rather than a friend that was also in love with her, thus adding a certain pedestal to his portrayal of her.
Bingo Square: Challenged