Who gets the last word?

Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books, 2005.

external image imageDB.cgi?isbn=9780142402511 It is apparent in today's society that someone or something can achieve fame through controversy. John Green understands this all to well. His book, Looking for Alaska, was not hugely popular until there was controversy surrounding it. The main reason behind the controversy stems from a small group of parents in a rural school district near Buffalo, New York. Some parents felt that the book was pornographic and as such, had no place in the school. Ultimately, the parents were over-ruled and the book was allowed to stay in as part of the year's curriculum. However, this small outcry allowed for a much larger audience to discuss the subject. There are now websites dedicated to the discussion of whether or not Green's book is pornography. To be honest, it was this controversy that first peaked our interest in Looking for Alaska. But, trust us when we say, there are much better reasons to read this book.

Francois Rabelais' last words were, "I go to seek a Great Perhaps". Always intrigued by peoples' last words, Miles Halter is particulary intrigued by Rabelais' last words. So now, at Culver Creek, a boarding school in rural Alabama, he is in search of his own "Great Perhaps". Along the way, Miles makes four new friends, Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, and Lara, who may all prove to be very helpful in his search. But, it is Alaska Young that captures Miles' attention. Alaska is funny, smart, gorgeous, mysterious, and Miles can't get enough of her. But when tragedy strikes Culver Creek, Miles and his friends are forced to face some of the more harsh realities of life. Through their struggles we see that this book is much more than prank planning, smoke breaks, and the consumption of cheap wine. In the end, Miles and the others will come to realize that sometimes in life, there are somethings that you will never understand.

Unlike many young adult novels, the characters in this story feel "real". They use language we hear students using in the hallways every day and the subject matter of many of their discussions is typical of pubescent teenagers. Yet, it is a tragedy and the way the characters deal with the resulting grief that shows us the true essence of the book. Looking for Alaska deals with many themes that are central to the lives of today's youth. Throughout the book Green explores the ideas of: peer pressure, socio-economics, sexual experiences, death, grief, and suicide, just to name a few. This book is beautifully written and explores a wide range of topics sure to interest any reader. John Green's Looking for Alaska is definitely worth a read.

Recommendations for Teachers
In a high school setting, Looking for Alaska provides for an opportunity to open up discussion on the sensitive life issues faced by teenagers. While these issues may be common in middle school as well, the maturity level of the students does not allow for the proper discussions that are necessary to engage in. Beyond what makes the book controversial, the use of profanity and the exploration of drinking, drugs and sexuality, the novel brings into light the struggles adolescents face during their high school years. The novel entices true-to-life discussions about finding personal identity, relationships, love, alcohol, depression, suicide, grief and death.

Because of the controversy surrounding the book, we would suggest sending a letter/permission slip home to the parents explaining why you have decided to teach the book. Take the focus off what makes the novel controversial and explain the how the powerful issues provide an opportunity for students to openly express their thoughts, emotions and feelings about the struggles that many high school students face today. These important and delicate issues in the book far outweigh anything that may seem to make the book controversial.

About the Author
external image john_green.jpgJohn Green (b. August 4, 1977) is an American young adult novelist, who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. John grew up in Florida and attended Indian Springs boarding school in Alabama. John received his bachelor’s degree in English and Religion from Kenyon Collegein 2000. According to sparksflyup.com (John’s personal website) “when he was little, [John] wanted to be an earthworm scientist” but after a little consideration, John ultimately decided that he wanted to become a writer, and in 2005, he published his first novel, //Looking for Alaska//.

Because of some of the content in Looking for Alaska, the book has faced controversy. In a SafeLibrairies review of young adult literature, John has been categorized as a “porn pusher” and Alaska deemed “hard core pornography” . In addition to harsh reviews, Alaska has also been challenged in some school districts, most recently at Depew Highschool in Depew, New York.

Despite the controversy surrounding Alaska, John has received much acclaim for this book and in 2006 Alaska was awarded the Michael L. Printz Award, awarded for literary excellence in young adult literature. Paramount Pictures also purchased the film rights in 2005. Also in 2005, Alaska was voted as the #3 favorite young adult novel in an ALA survey.

Green currently has one other book published, //An Abundance of Katharines//, and another, Paper Towns is set to be released in October 2008.

To learn more about John Green and to hear his reaction to the controversy surrounding Looking for Alaska, you can check out his personal website at: http://www.sparksflyup.com/. In addition to his website, John can be found at Myspace.


The first two videos below are of the author of Looking for Alaska, John Green. The first video shows Green recounting one the pranks he pulled as a teenager. I think it's safe to say that some of his inspiration for the book came from his own life. The second video is a bit more well known. Here Green gives us his view on the controversy surrounding the book. The third video is a fan trailer for the movie Looking for Alaska, although no official trailer has been released by Paramount, this is a creative supposition of what we might expect. Enjoy!

Additional Resources:
  • John Green's website - The site gives reviews of his novels and a link to his blog
  • John Green's Myspace - John Green's Official Myspace, where you can add him as a friend and read some additional blogs.
  • Save.org - Gives information on warning signs, prevention and treatment as well as helpful links on issues related to suicide and depression.
  • Suicide.org- A site packed with resources designed for people who may have suicidal feelings.
  • kidsaid.com- A site for kids by kids dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one.
  • GriefNet.org - A site that is dedicated to helping people deal with the loss of a loved one. It has over 50 e-mail support groups.
  • Teen Alcohol Use - An article about the effects of teen alcohol use.
  • The Controversy- The article that appeared in the Buffalo News Newspaper that led to controversy.
  • Reading Guide - A short interview with the author and discussion questions that could be used in a classroom.
  • Last Words- If you're like Pudge, then this site is for you. It gives the last words of famous people.
  • Peer Pressure - This site gives helpful information on peer pressure and how to cope with it
Our other revies:
A Wrinkle in Time
Gossip Girl
--Kaye Martin, Leigha Golden, Kati Hoekstra and Amanda Cooper