Book Review: Looking for Alaska

looking-for-alaskaTitle: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Series: none

Edition: Paperback

Seasonal Reading Challenge: Task 10.2 – Ring, Sing, Bling? – Some ancient wonders such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon end with the letters “ing,” and that ending also is common during the holiday season – bells “ring,” people “sing” carols. Read a book with a word in the title/subtitle ending in “ing.”

Blurb: Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Review: It’s funny, but I thought that I had already reviewed this book, but then as I was cleaning up some things around the blog, I realized that I hadn’t. And since I end up reading it at least once a year, I figured I ought to officially review this thing!

Y’all know how much I love John Green. I have ever since I first started watching VlogBrothers on YouTube. This was his first published book and, to be honest, I feel like it completely encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager, more so than most of the YA books I have read. This book is often taught in schools, which means it’s also challenged and banned quite often as well. Because parents don’t think that their precious children can handle this.

It’s hard to review this without giving away the ending, and doing that would ruin the experience of reading this book. I’ll start by listing things that people complain about it. Lots of folks dismiss Alaska Young as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Actually, to be fair, they complain that Green uses this trope often in his books, which is a fair point. An Abundance of Katherines has Lindsey Lee Wells. Paper Towns has Margo Roth Spiegleman. The Fault in Our Stars sort of has a Manic Pixie Dream Guy with Augustus Waters, although that one is a bit different. So yeah, clearly John Green enjoys using this as a plot device, but the thing is, he’s very good at it. And also, I think his characters have more depth than a typical MPDG usually does. They don’t just exist to help the main characters find themselves. They have their own needs and desires.

All that aside, Alaska is a fun character that you can’t help but like even though she is a whole heap of trouble. Actually, all of the characters in this one are great, from Miles’s roommate Chip (a.k.a “The Colonel” – he’s the leader of the group), Takumi (who enjoys wearing a fox hat when they go on their adventures), and Lara (a shy Romanian girl who is Miles’s first girlfriend).

The book also has fun with the boarding school setting and, let’s be honest, how many of us had a fantasy about going away to boarding school when we were kids? I know I did. There’s a reason why it’s so popular (seriously, I could name a dozen children’s or YA books set in a boarding school right off the top of my head).

To sum up, this book is really good. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry every time I read it. GoodReads rating: 5 stars

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Banned Books Week 2016

Happy Banned Books Week everyone! This is a week where we celebrate books that have been challenged or banned and also celebrate the freedom to read and write books that help to express ideas and feelings, even if it is unpopular or uncomfortable.

I have always been a big fan of raising awareness for Banned Books Week, mostly because I am very much against censorship. There are so many documented cases where books have been removed from class curriculums, or removed from school libraries altogether, usually due to complaints from parents or school board members who have never even read the book in question. They are afraid that certain subject matter might scar their children for life and that they must shield them from this at all costs.

To some respects, I understand. There is a difference between something not being age appropriate and a subject that you just don’t want your kid to read about. Many of the books that have been banned or challenged share similar themes, the most common one being anything to do with sexuality. True, I don’t think that books like 50 Shades of Gray belong in a classroom, but you have to be pretty naïve to think that your teenage son or daughter isn’t already thinking or talking about sex. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Part of what bothers me is that in most cases, if a teacher assigns a book that they know might cause issues, they typically have a permission slip to be signed by the parents, and a second book choice if the parents deem the book as inappropriate for their child. Sadly, this isn’t usually enough, even though it seems perfectly fair to me. They aren’t forcing your kid to read the book, but by taking action against it, you are preventing other kids from reading a book that might have just the message they need at that time.

A lot of the books that have been banned, both this year and in years past, have helped students deal with issues like bullying, abuse, questions about their sexuality, drugs, and lots of other subjects that they are exposed to daily, whether in their schools or from what they see online. The best thing about reading these books is that it opens up a dialogue that can allow students to talk through these issues with each other in class, but also to help parents to engage in important conversations with their kids that they may have not otherwise had an opening into. That is such a valuable thing.

I can’t count the number of times a book has opened my mind up to new possibilities, new cultures, and new ideas. That’s what books are for, and shutting off that valuable resource does not protect our kids. Generally, it does the opposite.

The American Library Association has loads of resources to find out more about banned books, including the top ten most banned or challenged books for 2015 and for each year going back to 2001. Shout out to one of my favorite authors, John Green, for getting the top spot last year for his novel, Looking for Alaska. I love this book, and I am always glad when teachers and librarians stand up for it.

Speaking of Mr. Green, here are a couple of videos I recommend where he speaks on the matter: one from this year, and one from 2008 in response to a specific challenge incident.

One other thing the ALA has on their website are a few discussion questions. I’ve decided to pose one each day this week here, along with my answer, and hopefully you guys will also answer. Because discussion is fun!

bbw16prompt1

The Harry Potter books, definitely. They were mostly challenged in the early 2000s, for reasons of “anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence.”

Um, what?

First off, how can anyone read those books and think they are anti-family? They are anti-Dursleys, that’s for sure, but that is more anti-abusive-family, not families in general. The Weasleys are one of best families in all of literature as far as I’m concerned, and how are they not a great example of what a family should be: warm, loving, supportive, and accepting of all people. They are the only true family Harry has known, and they love him as if he was their own son/brother. Show me the anti-family message here.

Okay, the next points here are “occult/Satanism/religions view point.” I can’t believe I have to actually say this but – these books are fiction. I don’t know how anyone could think otherwise. The books do not promote any sort of religious practice, and certainly don’t promote anything Satanic. It’s magic spells at a magic school, not some sort of textbook on witchcraft. Do you really think that your child wouldn’t be able to tell the difference? That shows a severe lack of confidence in your child’s critical thinking skills. And are you seriously giving your kid a childhood devoid of anything magical? That’s just sad.

Last point – “violence.” This is the only one I can sort of understand. The last books especially get increasingly more intense. The characters are fighting a war, after all. In spite of this, I don’t think any of the violence is gratuitous or graphic, and it certainly isn’t celebrated. It is made very clear that acts of violence have consequences, which is a very good lesson, especially for children. There is a very obvious line between good and evil.

So to sum up, I believe that these claims are unfounded or over-exaggerated. I also believe that the overarching themes of love and friendship and loyalty far outweigh any complaints that the book banners could have.

Please leave your answer, or a link to your blog post, in comments. Happy Banned Books week!

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

an abundance of katherines

Today’s book up for review is probably my favorite John Green title, although not my favorite John Green book. Actually, this is probably my least favorite of his books, which is saying something, since I still really like this one. Oh, let’s face it – I love everything this man writes. I’m a fangirl and proud of it!

But on to the book. This is the story of Colin, a former child prodigy who is no longer a child, trying to recover from his latest breakup with a girl named Katherine. Yes, I said his “latest” – Colin has dated 19 girls named Katherine, and every single one of the has dumped him. Naturally, Colin is heartbroken and wants to do nothing but mope, but that is not meant to be. His best friend Hassan, a Muslim and unapologetic Judge Judy fan, decides that what Colin needs is a road trip. Because that’s what best friends are for.

Seriously, everyone needs a Hassan in their life. He is definitely my favorite character in this book, by far.

So Colin and Hassan hit the road and end up in Gunshot, Tennessee, where they meet Lindsey, a girl who gives tours of the tomb of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (who could not possibly be buried there), and Hollis, Lindsey’s mother, who owns the one huge employer in Gunshot, a textile mill that makes the strings for tampons. While staying with them, Colin realizes what his main problem is – he needs to do something with his genius, one big thing that will be his life’s work. His plan – to create a mathematical equation to predict the result of any future relationships. He calls it “The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability” and spends a good part of his time in Gunshot working on this. He and Hassan also get to meet the people of the town while working on a project for Hollis, interviewing everyone to try and preserve Gunshot’s history. Along the way, Colin realizes that maybe it’s time to give up on Katherines, and maybe give a Lindsey a chance.

This book is full of random facts, anagrams, and general hilarity. Was it a little over the top? At times, sure. But the characters are likeable and the story is fun. As I said, it’s not my favorite John Green book, but even a less than stellar John Green book is better than most of the other stuff out there. This book didn’t keep me up all night, like Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska did, but it’s well worth the read.

Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Words cannot fully express how much I love this book, but I am going to try.  It is my favorite John Green book, and that is saying something.

paper towns

This is the story of Quentin, a high school senior, and his next door neighbor, Margo. Quentin and Margo were friends as children, but have since grown apart, since she is one of the cool kids at school and he is, well, not. Then one night, Margo appears at Quentin’s window and invites him to come with her on an adventure that involves sneaking out, staying up all night, getting revenge on her cheating ex-boyfriend and the friend who should have told her about it, and ends with breaking into Sea World (the only Orlando theme park that Margo hadn’t broken into previously). The night seems magical, as does Margo at times, but the next day, she disappears. Her parents, tired of her strange antics and previous runaway attempts, decide that since she’s eighteen now, she’s on her own.

It’s up to Quentin to find out what happened to Margo, especially since she has left several clues behind that only Quentin would be able to find or understand. It’s a crazy scavenger hunt through poetry and music, through abandoned buildings throughout Central Florida, and ending with the best road trip I’ve ever read about.

This book made me laugh and cry, often at the same time. I love how, the more Quentin learns about Margo, the more he realizes that he barely knew her at all. She had always been this fantasy, this unattainable girl, but she was also a lot more than that. This book also deals with how it feels when childhood officially ends, leaving behind everything you knew and going off into your future.

So yes, this is an awesome book. Go read it. Now.

Books #5 & 6

I was originally going to post about re-reading the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. I have since decided against that. Not that I don’t love these books – I really, really, really do. But for now, it will just be mentioned that I read it and have moved on.

I need to spend more time talking about another book that I read, a book that I was both looking forward to reading and dreading at the same time: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

 For anyone who doesn’t know, John Green is one half of the very popular YouTube channel “The Vlogbrothers,” along with his brother, Hank. I have watched their videos for years and am proud to call myself a Nerdfighter. I have also read all of John’s previous books and, naturally, was excited when I heard that another one was forthcoming. However, once I heard more about it, I had some reservations.

The Fault in Our Stars is about a teenage girl who has terminal cancer.

This is such a trigger subject for so many people. I had no doubt that John would handle the subject appropriately, but still, it seemed like such a downer. There can’t be a happy ending to this story, right? No matter what happens, unless there’s some kind of cheap miracle cure, the main character will be facing death and, potentially, so will other characters as well. I knew I had to read this book. I had preordered it so that I would get a signed copy. But I also knew that there would be no escaping it – John Green was about to make me cry. Again.

And yet . . . I was glad to see that there was such humor in the book. All the characters are facing major challenges, either dealing with cancer themselves or watching with a loved one deal with it, and yet it doesn’t completely consume them. Their lives are hard, but still worthwhile. Another thing I liked was how real the characters felt – how matter-of-fact they were about their lives. The main character, Hazel, is very blunt about how her lungs are crap and she needs to have portable oxygen. It’s not shown as a big production. It’s just there. Part of her life, but not her entire life.

It’s a beautiful love story between Hazel and Gus, a boy she meets at a support group for cancer patients and survivors. There are highs and lows, things that are ugly and things that are beautiful. One of the things I love most about Hazel in particular is how she loses herself in a book, so much so that she dreams of meeting the author just to find out what happens to the characters after the book ends. This girl could be my sister – I totally understand how she feels! They end up on a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam to track down this reclusive author and, I have to say, it is so incredibly romantic and sweet and I now want to visit Amsterdam someday.

This book was hard to read at times and, yes, I bawled like a baby towards the end. But it was also incredibly rewarding to read and brilliantly written.