Looking for Alaska, by John Green
I generally like John Green as a human. And he’s a good storyteller, so his books are pleasant reads. And they all are pretty much the same story with different artifacts. That’s why the only reason that I bought and read this book is because it’s one of the most banned books in the country and buying (plus reading) a banned book is your way to give the middle finger to the world’s idiots.
That said, there’s a structure to a John Green book that would make an interesting year’s work for a psychoanalyst I’m sure. Nerd boy with unique talents has nerdy friends. In high school or college said boy will interact with a bright, beautiful, insightful, funny, incredibly troubled female. Things happen. She dies. It’s not even like it’s a spoiler anymore. It’s like saying “Sherlock Holmes will solve the crime.” It’s the details and filigrees that Green strews through the story that make it an entertaining read. You’re not going to be knocked off your feet by a Gone Girl twist.
In this case the girl is Alaska, whose parents allowed her to name herself at a certain age. She’s bright, beautiful, insightful, funny, and incredibly troubled.
What makes Green readable is fun dialogue and enough differences in specifics to make this particular alternate Green universe novel interesting in its particulars. The love interests will always have an aura of mystery. Alaska is no exception. Working out the details of that mystery really does make Green like a Conan Doyle or Christie in working a new mystery into familiar surroundings. Sure it’s not a locked-door murder but working through the threads of a troubled girl’s psyche is worth an afternoon of reading at minimum.
I can say that I see why this is a banned book more clearly than I could with, say, Fahrenheit 451 or Huckleberry Finn. There are various sex acts, copious drinking, ribald adventures. I get it. If you homeschool in a mountain cabin with no nearby neighbors or internet access then you should probably ban this book from your “school”. There will be plenty of time when your child escapes your brain prison for them to seek out and find all the evil writing they want in adulthood. For most high schoolers of my current acquaintance this book will be mild compared to whatever is happening in their personal lives and might actually add some sensitivity and perspective to their interactions. Put it in the library with a parental permission requirement but put it in the damn library. Meanwhile I’ll keep looking for books being banned and congratulate the writer with the royalty from another purchase.