Books I've Read

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


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!


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!