We were asked to read a couple of classic teen novels for this class. According to Oxford Dictionary Online classic is defined as “Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind“. And so a classic novel is a novel that will stand the test of time. It’s not just a fad, it truly resonates with many people and will do so over the course of many years. A teen classic novel will do just this but is written just for teens. I chose to read Looking for Alaska by John Green for this section of reading. It’s one I’ve heard a lot about over the years but I’d never picked it up for some reason.
Looking for Alaska is about Miles. He’s a teenage boy obsessed with the last words of famous people. He reads their biographies and loves it when their last words are included. When his parents ask him why he chose to go to boarding school, thinking it was because he didn’t have many (if any) friends, and he tells them that it’s because of Francois Robelais’ last words: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. This is what really grabbed my attention when I was reading the book. It got me wondering, do teens really think this way? Is John Green making teens appear more deep and philosophical than they truly are? And, if so, does that matter?
Miles ends up going to this boarding school and meets the first true friends he’s ever had. His roommate, The Colonel, gives him the nickname, Pudge, and that’s what we get to know him as. Pudge becomes infatuated with this girl, Alaska. She’s moody, attractive, bold, smart, and has a boyfriend. Takumi is the funny one of the group and he also loves to rap. Much of the book is taken over by the witty and smart dialogue between this group of friends and their escapades on school grounds. They mess around a lot but they each seem to take their lives seriously. They seriously ponder the BIG questions about life and share their thoughts with each other. Adults are around but not immediately present. Pudge’s parents are supportive and trust him. They don’t hover but they’re there if Pudge ever needs them. The teachers seem to care but they’re mainly in the background. One does stand out as the protector of the students. They’ve nicknamed him The Eagle and at first he just seems like a disciplinarian but you start to realize that he truly cares about the kids who go to the school.
However, this novel does revolve around a tragedy. It is broken up into two parts, a Before and an After. Pudge starts to truly ponder what The Great Perhaps is in the After portion. He struggles with the reasons why certain choices are made and why such horrible things can happen to the people he loves. He and The Colonel must choose how to move on after such a life changing event happens.
John Green writes his teen characters as real as he can. They make stupid decisions, drink, do drugs, and have sex. But they’re also smart, funny, emotionally vulnerable, strong, and fragile. He seems to write his characters in a way to draw real teens into a story. He really wants to connect with teens and help them feel as though they are not alone in anything that they go through. Sometimes his characters can be irritating and selfish but that’s just how people (not just teens) can be sometimes.
The fact that John Green writes for teens in a way that isn’t condescending or dumbing things down for them might be the reason he has such a faithful following. His brother, Hank, and he started the nerdfighters campaign. They wanted teens to truly feel accepted in a group where they could be themselves. There is no criteria to be a nerdfighter, you just need to want to be one.
To find out more about nerdfighters, watch a youtube video by Hank and Green here.
For more information from John Green’s website about Looking for Alaska click here.
For famous last words click here.
To find out how to help troubled teens click here.