Sunday, July 8, 2007

YA Lit Blog: Reading Rants

Reading Rants! Started out as a blog but is now a full-fledged website! It is maintained by Jennifer Hubert (but designed by Andrew Mutch) Middle School Librarian at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwish Village, NY.

I have been a dedicated reader of this site for a long time because Erin Gaines (Youth Services Librarian at the Temple Public Library), one of my first great Librarian mentors showed it to me and I have loved it ever since.

The reasons I like it are as follows: 1) Jennifer Hubert LOVES YA literature and it shows—she seems to be as much a kid as I am, and I’m as much a kid as most of my YA patrons, so I feel she’s a kindred spirit; 2) Jennifer Hubert is no B.S.-er—she doesn’t writer her reviews to kiss author butt; 3) the site has just EXPLODED and become super-interactive and even more accessible to teens than ever (they can even have their own login); 4) Jennifer’s site has SPREAD and has actually been made into a book. Woo HOO!!!

YA Lit Blog: The Goddess Librarian

The Goddess Librarian is a blog constructed and maintained by a Young Adult Librarian from New York whose real name isn’t published. According to her Myspace page, she has a Master’s degree in Library Science from SUNY College at Albany (1998) and a Bachelor’s Degree in English from SUNY College at Geneseo (1997). Her blog includes links to other blogs (including blogs maintained by actual YA authors—YAY!), to her personal home page, her Myspace page, other teen book review sites and “top ten books.”

I like her blog because she seems to read a wide variety of YA literature and she doesn’t seem afraid to give good, reflective critiques—even letting herself be negative when applicable. I think this takes bravery. My only criticism is that she doesn’t post very often. However, she mentions that she is a working mom—and I can SO relate!

The Lightning Thief

Riordan, Rick. (2005) The Lightning Thief. New York: Miramax. ISBN 0786838655.

Percy Jackson is an awkward kid. A trouble maker. But he doesn’t necessarily mean to be, but he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. When he gets kicked out of yet ANOTHER boarding school, his mother takes him to spend the summer at the beach. When a strangely tempestuous, freak storm comes upon them, Percy’s mother decides it’s time to head home and it’s just about then that Percy’s best friend Grover reveals that he is, in fact, a satyr. As if that wasn’t enough for one day, as they are making their escape from the storm, they are suddenly attacked by a strange, and very LARGE, creature which ends up being a Minotaur.

Percy’s mother is killed in the attack, but he manages to get away. Just far enough to make it to Camp Half-Blood where he discovers he is a demi-god, half human and half god. Percy learns that he is the son of Poseidon, god of water, and that water heals him.

He begins to train and actually excels at it. Finally, he is given a quest—a great honor—in which he must find who stole Zeus’ thunderbolt and where the heck it is. He is warned that he, and his friends Annabeth (Athena’s daughter) and Grover, will be in constant and grave danger—Zeus’ and Poseidon’s enemies are everywhere. In the end, he must cross the United States, not to mention the River Styx, before he finds the missing lightning. But he does and restores peace to the god.

All’s well that ends well. Percy’s mother was not, in fact, killed by the accident and now gives him the choice to stay at Camp Half-Blood year round.

The language is accessible and the plot is action-packed. However, this book didn’t read YA to me. In fact, it was even tamer than Harry Potter most of the time. Maybe it was the length and the fight scenes that made someone think it might be YA. Or maybe it’s geared to the earlier, middle, ages. I don’t know. As a story, it was a fun read, with nearly constant action and conflict…

BUT, In My Honest Opinion, it did seem like a thinly veiled mythology lesson at times. A fun and fictionalized lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Sometimes, didacticism seemed to push back the curtain of plot and character.

Still, I’ll read the sequel.

Reviews for The Lightning Thief (per

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-9–An adventure-quest with a hip edge...There's lots of zippy review of Greek myth and legend, and characters like Medusa, Procrustes, Charon, and the Eumenides get updates. Some of the Labors of Heracles or Odysseus's adventures are recycled, but nothing seems stale, and the breakneck pace keeps the action from being too predictable. Percy is an ADHD, wise-cracking, first-person narrator. Naturally, his real quest is for his own identity. Along the way, such topics as family, trust, war, the environment, dreams, and perceptions are raised. There is subtle social critique for sophisticated readers who can see it. Although the novel ends with a satisfying conclusion (and at least one surprise), it is clear that the story isn't over. The 12-year-old has matured and is ready for another quest, and the villain is at large. Readers will be eager to follow the young protagonist's next move.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-9. The escapades of the Greek gods and heroes get a fresh spin in the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a contemporary 12-year-old New Yorker who learns he's a demigod. ...Riordan's fast-paced adventure is fresh, dangerous, and funny. Percy is an appealing, but reluctant hero, the modernized gods are hilarious, and the parallels to Harry Potter are frequent and obvious. Because Riordan is faithful to the original myths, librarians should be prepared for a rush of readers wanting the classic stories.


SLJ Best Book
NYT Notable Book
Child Magazine Best Book
TLA Bluebonnet Award Nominee


Lynch, Chris. (2005). Inexcusable. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13:9781416939726.

Keir Sarafian is a good guy. He’s a good guy. "I’m a good guy." That’s what he tells himself. He also tells himself that his behavior is normal. The behavior of a normal, good guy.

But he’s not. And somewhere deep inside, he knows it:

Something changed in those weeks and months heading out of my high school life. Things were different. I was different. Physically different.

After football and soccer seasons were behind me and party season was in full session, I became aware of myself and my appetites. Myself as appetite.

Following his enabling father’s example, he starts to dabble in appetite. Dabble in drugs and drinking.

And little by little, we get to see the results of Keir’s appetite and his loss of control over it. Keir has raped his friend Gigi. He doesn’t understand that it was rape.

Why doesn’t she hear what I’m saying? Why don’t my words say what I’m saying?

“I’m sorry. Gigi, I said I’m sorry, remember? I didn’t do it.”
“Let me out of this room, Keir.”
“Why don’t you hear me? I’m not keeping you here. I’m just trying to get you to listen to me, and you keep not listening to me.”

“Can I just try one more time? Huh, Gigi? Okay, there was sex, we had sex, all right?”
Instantly, she covers her ears and spins to the floor like a corkscrew. She remains there, clinging to two fistfuls of hair on either side of her head.
“We had sex and okay, it wasn’t perfect, but I love you.”
It is like blood. Her beautiful liquid chocolate eyes are like spurting blood as she looks up at me now.
“Don’t do that,” I beg. “Please, Gigi, don’t do that to me.”
“It wasn’t perfect. But you love me,” she drones.

“That’s right,” I say.
“You raped me,” she says, in a flat, quiet tone that is like an almighty scream.

“Stop with that. That… word…is so wrong. That word does not belong here. It does not belong in the same room with us. It does not belong in the same world with me and you. That word, Gigi, belongs someplace else, with criminals and deviates and psychopaths, but not here, not with us, not with me loving you like you know I do. I did not. I could not, ever. You did not say that, Gigi, okay?”
“You raped me.”
“What are you saying? What are you doing, Gigi? This is me, here. This is me.”
“That’s right, Keir. You. …How could you do that to me, Keir? You? Me?”
… “No, no, no, no. Do you know how far away that is from me? That did not happen. Why aren’t you listening? I could never make that happen. Especially not to you. Not to anyone, but especially not to you. You know that. You knew that. Just know it again. Please. Please? Know me again.”
“I said no.”
“You know what happened. You slept with me. Right here. Right there,… Slept, Gigi. You slept with me, which is even better than sex, with I would trade for the sex a hundred thousand times over.”
“I said no.”

“I love you. That is what matters.”
“I said no. That is what matters.”

How could it get so wrong? How could she not know that I would kill anyone who ever did that to Gigi Boudakian?

The writing in this book is confusingly skillful. Chris Lynch uses accessible language and simple expressions to capture the audience. The flip-flopping from past to present wasn’t as well done as some other juxtapositions I have read—it left me feeling lost in space and time sometimes. But I’m not sure that wasn’t deliberate. The whole book felt like a weird nightmare or drunken haze. Maybe that was his point?

Content-wise, this book was a tough one for me. The first time I read it, I was almost on his side. I wanted to feel sorry for him. To see how obsession can push someone past the limit. How easy it is to love someone too much. To hug something so much you crush and kill it. To love someone so much and want to possess them so badly you can’t see or think clearly. But that isn’t love.

Tricky, tricky, Mr. Lynch.

Upon my second and third read, I started to remember the excuses my abusers made. One said, “I’m trying to teach you how to say no to boys. I’m trying to show you what some guys will try.” The same one said, “I just want to love on you a little bit” and he treated me like I was his favorite. Telling me he loved me. And for a long time, I thought that was the only love of which I was worthy.

But that’s not love. That’s destructive possession. It’s sickness. Love involves sacrificing your own desires for the comfort of another.

I was impressed by this book. By Lynch’s skill in making such a monster seem so human. It blurs the argument. But I was not impressed with Gigi. Her behavior and reactions were unrealistic, unbelievable, In My Honest Opinion. She seemed complacent during the rape and so overpoweringly vocal afterward. I’m not saying that that couldn’t or wouldn’t happen. Everyone reacts to rape differently. But I’m saying that it makes me wonder how much research Lynch did before writing Gigi’s part.

Reviews for Inexcusable (via

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Keir is a senior who fancies himself a lovable rogue. So do his widowed father, his older sisters, and his classmates. He likes being liked; he just doesn't do well with involvement. Keir would never do anything to hurt anyone intentionally–or would he? ...Keir's first-person narrative chillingly exposes the rationalization process that the troubled teen goes through to persuade himself and those around him of his innocence. Characters are clearly developed through immediately post-rape chapters that alternate with flashbacks of Keir's experiences and perceptions leading up to that point. As compelling as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999), though with a different point of view, this finely crafted and thought-provoking page-turner carefully conveys that it is simply inexcusable to whitewash wrongs, and that those responsible should (and hopefully will) pay the price.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* "The way it looks is not the way it is," begins Lynch's bone-chilling new novel. It looks like a date rape, and in the novel's first scene, set just after the alleged crime, teen Gigi accuses narrator Keir, whose terrifying denial ("I am a good guy . . and so I could not have done this") sets the book's tone…. Teens may doubt Keir's reliability as a narrator, but his self-recognition, in a final, searing scene, rings true. Here, and throughout this unforgettable novel, Lynch raises fierce, painful questions about athletic culture, family denial, violence, and rape, and readers will want to think and talk about them all. Where does personal responsibility begin? What defines a "good guy"? Are we all capable of monstrous things?

National Book Award Finalist


Anderson, Laurie Halse. (1999). Speak. New York: Puffin. ISBN 0142407321.

Melinda Sordino begins the semester as the school outcast. Someone found out she was the one who called the cops who came to break up the end of the summer party three weeks ago. No one will talk to her. Not even her best friends. In fact, her circle of friends has broken and migrated one at a time to other groups. The only person who speaks to her is Heather, a new girl from Ohio.

Melinda feels so changed from who she was just a few months ago. Back when she was bubbly and active in school. Back when the roses plastered all over her room were a reflection of who she was. Back when life was more than just darkness and silence.

Her new friend Heather is so fresh. So lively. So everything that Melinda used to be but no longer is. Melinda can’t explain what has happened to shatter her old self, but she implies that it might have something to do with someone she calls “IT.”

I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather. IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader. IT is my nightmare and I can’t wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks. Good thing my lips are stitched together or I’d throw up.

Melinda’s grades are slipping. She has no friends. She has no hope. The only thing she has is this lame art project Mr. Freeman gave her. She has to create the perfect tree. But try as she might, she can’t find the medium she needs to get done what should be an easy project. The tree is just as messed up as she is.

Melinda spends her time in an abandoned closet she found while roaming the halls. To make it her own, she puts up a poster of Maya Angelou over the mirror.

Slowly things are getting better. Ivy is talking to her again because she’s in Melinda’s art class. And through this dumb tree assignment, Melinda is finding ways to express the nothing she feels inside. But she passes out while dissecting a frog and as she does, we get yet another hint as to what has changed her:

Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen’s voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut—I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.

Then, IT shows up again, whispering the word “Freshmeat” in Melinda’s ear.

I can smell him over the noise of the metal shop and I drop my poster and the masking tape and I want to throw up and I can smell him and I run and he remembers and he knows. He whispers in my ear.

We know. Well, I know.

And we learn his name:

Siohban: “It’s him. Andy Evans just walked in. I think he’s looking for you Em.”

I turn around. They are talking about IT. Andy. Andy Evans. Short stabby name…. It feels like the Prince of Darkenss has swept his cloak over the table. The lights dim. I shiver.

Suddenly, Heather gives up on trying to break Melinda out of her shell and tells her that she doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore and that she needs professional help because Melinda is “the most depressed person” she’s ever met. She tells Melinda that she can’t eat lunch with her anymore.

The principal calls Melinda’s parents in for a conference about her grades and her class-cutting. She gets in-school suspension. Guess who’s there? Yep. Andy. Instead of feeling sick, she feels anger.

I want to kill him.

Melinda has to watch her ex-best friend, Rachel and Andy Evans becoming an item and she can’t even warn him. She can feel changes happening inside her. Making the tree has awakened a beast. Heather comes over to ask for her help, but Melinda kicks her out of her room. Then the next day, she decides to finally do what she can to repair her friendship with Rachel. She starts talking about Andy and because the librarian shhh-es them, they start to pass notes.

Are you still mad at me? I write.

No, I guess not. It was a long time ago…The party was a little wild… But it was dumb to call the cops…We could have just left.

I didn’t call the cops to break up the party… I called…them because some guy raped me. Under the trees. I didn’t know what to do… I was stupid and drunk and didn’t know what was happening and then he hurt… raped me. When the police came, everyone was screaming, and I was just too scared, so I cut through some back yards and just walked home.
Oh my God, I am so sorry…Why didn’t you tell me?

I couldn’t tell anybody.


…Andy Evans.

But Rachel gets up, calls Melinda a sick and jealous liar. But Ivy shows Melinda a bathroom stall where many girls with different handwriting have written warnings about Andy Evans.

Finally, Melinda feels some healing. It’s the end of the year and she wants to go back to her closet to retrieve her Maya Angelou poster but gets trapped in there by Andy Evans. He tells her she has a big mouth. When she tries to leave, he locks the door and attacks her, trying to rape her again. But this time is different. She is different. She speaks. A loud, resounding NO “explodes” from her. She breaks the mirror behind the poster and holds a shard of it to Andy Evans’ neck. Someone heard her NO and pounds on the locked door. The entire lacrosse team is there. Witnesses. And help.

The semester over, the tree finished, Melinda healed and now powerful has found her voice again.


I would love to go on and on about the writing of this book, but the content is so overwhelmingly intense that it is hard to see past it to the mechanics. All I know is that every detail in this book seemed real. Every person, every smell, every color, every sound, every emotion. I don’t know how she did it exactly, but Laurie Halse Anderson did that. She made it real. This could have been just another Disney-ized, Lifetime movie (isn’t it ironic that they made a Lifetime movie out of this book?) account of a date rape, but it is so much more than that. She made it a nightmare. A year long walking nightmare in someone’s life. It’s an account of how just a thin line, a split-second evil, can change someone’s life so completely. How it can turn them into someone new. Someone broken. It has nothing to do with being a girl and being overpowered by a male—there are other ways of raping people—it is about invasion. About breaking trust. Crossing a line.

I hate it when people call books like this a “problem” novel. As though putting it into that category makes it somehow cliché like those books that come in series about different problems, all having nearly identical covers. You know the ones. Yeah, rape is a problem and so hard to define and explain. It seems like every person you meet has a different idea of where the line is. Where it goes from playing-hard-to-get to an invasion.

This happened to me over and over. All my life. From an early age, I trusted because I wanted desperately to be loved. And in my bad luck, I stumbled upon creeps who took advantage of my “father hunger” and pushed the limits physically. The one time I told—I spoke—I got a letter from the authorities saying that they had investigated and had “found no credible evidence of abuse.”

By the time I was a teenager, I figured it was something in my wiring. That I had and was bringing it upon myself. That it was somehow my destiny. That, and I didn’t know any other way to feel love. So, I let myself be used. I knew I should, but I never said no. What was the point? After years of letting myself be used so that I could feel just one moment of someone wanting me, even if it was just my body—even though after nearly every encounter, I cried myself to sleep—I finally realized that it wasn’t me. That I was a big girl now. That I was worthy of love for other reasons.

This book called back so many of my adolescent emotions. Not of high school—I was home schooled. Not of friends—I never really liked girls that much, they seemed to get on my nerves. But of the invasion. Of the silence. The darkness. The loneliness. I’m so glad that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote this book. To show the darkness, the abyss that exists and the sunlight and healing on the other side. Just the fact that healing can happen and that empowerment is ours for the taking.

Reviews for Speak (via

From Publishers Weekly
In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. ...Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired. Ages 12-up.

From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-This powerful novel deals with a difficult yet important topic-rape. ...Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda's pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.

A frightening and sobering look at the cruelty and viciousness that pervade much of contemporary high school life, as real as today's headlines. ...The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget. (Fiction. 12+)

Having broken up an end-of-summer party by calling the police, high-school freshman Melinda Sordino begins the school year as a social outcast. She's the only person who knows the real reason behind her call: she was raped at the party by Andy Evans, a popular senior at her school. Slowly, with the help of an eccentric and understanding art teacher, she begins to recover from the trauma, only to find Andy threatening her again. Melinda's voice is distinct, unusual, and very real as she recounts her past and present experiences in bitterly ironic, occasionally even amusing vignettes. In her YA fiction debut, Anderson perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and one teen's struggle to find acceptance from her peers. Melinda's sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.

National Book Award Finalist
ALA Quick Pick
Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
SCBWI Golden Kite Award
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
Printz Honor Book
Siver Book Award Nominee


Funke, Cornelia. (2003). Inkheart. United Kingdom: Chicken House. ISBN-13: 9780439709101.

Meggie loves books. Maybe the only person who loves books as much as she is her father Mortimer—or as most call him, Mo—who is a bookbinder of the classic variety. Meggie and her father have lived together alone since Meggie’s mother disappeared mysteriously nine years earlier, but that was so long ago, Meggie seems to only know life with her father and with their precious books. Not only do they love stories, but they see the physical book as sacred. But as much as they worship books, Meggie can’t understand why her father refuses to read aloud to her.

One night, during a storm, Meggie notices a man outside their house. She runs to tell Mo, but is interrupted by a knock at the door. She overhears her father talking to a man he calls Dustfinger and is perplexed as to why the stranger keeps calling Mo Silvertongue and talking about an evil man named Capricorn.

Early the next day, Mo packs up everything of value they can carry and sets off to spend some time with his wife’s sister, Meggie’s Aunt, Elinor near the south of Italy. While Mo says they are going away for vacation, Meggie knows that they are fleeing the pursuit of this mysterious Capricorn—though she has no idea why Capricorn would want her father.

Upon meeting Elinor, Meggie does, in fact, finally meet someone who loves books as much as Mo and herself. Elinor is a rich book collector. But she is moody and stern. And when Meggie overhears her father entrusting a very coveted book to Elinor’s secret library, she begins to become very suspicious, but she soon discovers what the mystery is about.

While Dustfinger, who has hitched a ride with Mo and Meggie, is giving them a performance, Capricorn’s men show up at Elinor’s house. They take Mo and the secret book—or so they think… Elinor switched it out. But now it’s up to Elinor and Meggie to save Mo. With Dustfinger’s help, they find Capricorn’s secret lair. They also discover the great secret of why Mo won’t read out loud—and why he is referred to as Silvertongue—because when he reads, characters from the stories come alive into the real world. But there’s a catch: There must be an exchange. A character comes here, but a real live person is taken to live in the story. This is how Meggie’s mother disappeared.

Through a long series of dangerous misadventures—and with the help of both Dustfinger, Fenoglio, the original author of Capricorn’s story and Farid, a boy Mo has brought from the story of 1001 Nights—Meggie finds a way to trick Capricorn, saving her father and finding her mother (who had been read back OUT of the story by another silvertongue, though one not as proficient in the art as she was recreated without the ability to speak). And she discovers that being a silvertongue is hereditary—she has the amazing ability herself!

This was a LONG book. Its plot had many twists and turns (so many that had it not been so exciting, might have come off as repetitive and tedious) and there were MANY peripheral characters with whom we spent maybe a tad too much time; but, in spite of its length, the tension never dulled and as a reader, I felt constantly swept along by the action and intrigue.

I was surprised to find out that this book was a translation and I have one word to say: Bravo! It was amazing story with rich description and powerful suspense—if translations are faded comparisons of originals, I’d hate to see how stimulating the original German version was. I can’t imagine it being much more exciting… they’d have to put a warning label.

Now, there are some things about it which made me scratch my head. At the beginning (actually, probably all the way through) I had a difficult time finding where the story was set historically. My first images were of a medieval house, but the next morning, I was surprised to see them jump into a van and drive away—where was the horse and carriage? Later, when we get to Elinor’s mansion, she has a security system complete with motion detectors and flood lights; she talks about having a cell phone; she reports the robbery of her house to the police.

The confusion only gets worse when we get to Capricorn’s compound. It’s supposed to be an abandoned village in the south of Italy, but it was hard to imagine an abandoned village having, again, a security system and floodlights and high-powered firearms along with dungeons and old stone cathedrals, etc.

Even when they go in search of Fenoglio, who’s supposed to be the modern-day author of the story from which Capricorn and the other characters have sprouted; he seems very medieval in his dress and language.

The other thing was Meggie’s age. Her speech and behavior at times made her seem much younger than a twelve-year old girl. Sometimes she seemed closer to nine or ten, then at other times, she seemed to react like a normal pre-teen. This impression forces me to think that perhaps this book would be better for juvenile readers. It is Potter-esque in its movements and length, but maybe the language is sometimes a little too archaic. Still, I’m not sure how many actual teens would get into the book since most kids like to read books where the protagonists are clearly slightly older than them.

It only makes me wonder if these things are inherent to the book, the story itself, or if perhaps these can be attributed to this being a translation. Either way, they were MINOR speedbumps in the tale. I was very envious of the power both Mo and Meggie had and would LOVE to be able to “read alive” many of the characters from the books I’ve read.

Reviews of Inkheart (via

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8-Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. ...This "story within a story" will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters. Pair this title with Roderick Townley's The Great Good Thing (2001) and Into the Labyrinth (2002, both Atheneum) for a wonderful exploration of worlds within words.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-12. One dark night, a mysterious man called Dustfinger appears at the house where Meggie lives with her father, a bookbinder. Dustfinger's arrival sets in motion a long, complicated chain of events involving a journey, fictional characters brought to life, dangerous secrets revealed, threats of evil deeds, actual evil deeds, a long-lost relative found, and the triumph of creativity and courage. Despite the presence of several well-developed, sympathetic characters, the plot is often driven by the decidedly menacing, less-convincing villains. Although Meggie, one of the few young people in the book, remains the central character, she is not always in the forefront of the action or even on the scene. The points of view of sympathetic adult characters become increasingly important and more fully developed as the story progresses. Like many other fantasies, this will appeal to a broad age range, though the writing is far less child-centered than it is, for example, in the Harry Potter series.

Heart-stopping language that impel the reader...a true feast for anyone who has ever been lost in a book.

2004 Booksense Award

Looking for Alaska

Green, John. (2005). Looking For Alaska. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0525475060.

Miles leaves his Florida home with his parents for a boarding school in Alabama where his father went as a youth (and did his share of trouble making) in search of his chance at finding “The Great Perhaps.”

What he found was his roommate Chip—a.k.a the Colonel—and Alaska, “the hottest girl in school.” Both were weekenders (compared to the Weekday Warriors, rich kids who lived a the school during the week but went home to their country club lives on the weekends) and both were screwed up in their own ways. Especially Alaska, with her seemingly multiple personalities disorder.

It’s from Chip, Alaska and a few peripheral characters that Miles learns to smoke, drink, eat bufriedos (deep fried burritos, “proving that deep-frying always improves food”), pull great pranks and get ever closer to “The Great Perhaps” he was seeking when he arrived at Culver Creek. And because of his skinniness, they give him the nickname Pudge.

The only problem is, he’s in love with Alaska. Oh, sure, she appreciates him in her own way—upon meeting him, instead of shaking hands, she pulled down his shorts; when he got kicked out of class for staring out the window, in a show of solidarity, she walked out with him; and then later, she tells him he’s “adorable… Too bad I love my boyfriend.” Despite (or perhaps because of) her mixed messages—entirely in tune with the rest of her bi-polar behavior, the way she seems happy and excited one minute and blubberingly, angrily, dramatically crying the next—Miles is utterly fascinated with her. He is tormented by her relationship with her boyfriend with whom she seems to have long, tearful phone calls in the hallway and then ecstatic make-ups.

Alaska seems oblivious to Pudge’s feelings. She “finds” him a girlfriend—a Romanian student named Lara. And she parades her boyfriend, Jake, in front of him during a weekend visit, even telling Miles that Jake is “hung like a horse and a beautiful, sensual lover.” Miles knows he should hate Jake, but he’s too busy admiring, wanting “to be him” to hate him.

Instead, he throws himself into his new budding relationship with Lara, his homework and appreciating his new life, full of friends and activity. He even has his first experience with felatio—a sad attempt that had to be re-explained and demonstrated to both Miles and Lara on a tube of Crest Complete, after which Miles has a better SECOND experience.

When a late night drinking binge ends up with Miles and Alaska making out on the floor, the Colonel slurs, “This is going to end poorly.” They all pass out but are awakened again by Alaska slamming the door and begging them, half screaming, to distract The Eagle (Mr. Stiles, the principal) while she drives away because she has “to get out of here.” Instead of keeping her from driving drunk, they grab a handful of firecrackers and head out to create a diversion.

The next day the Eagle assembled all the students to the gymnasium to let them know that Alaska Young had died early that morning in a car accident.

Pudge and the Colonel spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whether or not Alaska’s death was truly an accident (Alaska speeding on a wet road on the way to put flowers on her mother’s grave) or whether she killed herself AND dealing with the fact that they both had a hand in her driving drunk (and if that had anything to do with the incident).

After one last elaborate prank in Alaska’s memory, the guys throw themselves into their studies and learn to let go of their lovely, lively and very messed up friend. But Miles was guaranteed not to forget her:

It was the central moment of Alaska’s life. When she cried and told me that she fucked everything up, I knew what she meant now. And when she said she failed everyone, I knew whom she meant now. It was the everything and the everyone of her life, and so I could not help but imagine it: I imagined a scrawny eight-year-old with dirty fingers, looking down at her mother, who I imagine was not breathing by then but wasn’t yet cold either. And in the time between dying and death, a little Alaska sat with her mother in silence. And then through the silence and my drunkenness, I caught a glimpse of her as she might have been. She must have come to feel so powerless, I thought, that the one thing she might have done—pick up the phone and call an ambulance—never even occurred to her. There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot save themselves or save us, that everyone who wades through time eventually gets dragged out to sea by the undertow—that, in short, we are all going.

So she became impulsive, scared by her inaction into perpetual action…

First of all, there is nearly no organization to the plotline of this story. It flip-flops around and meanders from one random situation to another, like Christmas lights loosely strung together on a feeble thread. Further, the characters are flakey and unpredictable, their personalities shifting and changing constantly. The setting is a sleepy boarding school where the kids are so bored, they spend their time plotting and implementing elaborate, yet juvenile pranks. The account is peppered with curse words and seemingly random utterances that only show the flightiness of the characters personalities.

In other words, Looking for Alaska is an INCREDIBLE young adult book. Everything I said in the first paragraph of my reaction was a compliment. Adolescence is for many/most a time of flux where young people discover they can not depend on their previous perceptions of reality. The plot is disorganized, making it that much more realistic. A guy goes off to school, looking to break the monotony of living at home, and he finds just that.

The characters are flakey, flighty and unpredictable—and all people we’d love to have as friends. They are the outliers—the kids who don’t really fit in to any one group, pushing against the hegemony of the Weekday Warriors and the Eagle with their constant pranks and non-violent, subtle and sometimes silent protests. They are real and believable and likable.

The language is accessible but is not simple in the way that the reader (especially young readers) feel condescended to. Miles’ thoughts are ones we all have in those moments of self-discovery and world-questioning, so even his musing which can at times wax super-philosophical, is still understandable and applicable to the adolescent plight. The curse words were not in the least frivolous or gratuitous but rather skillfully used to heighten the emotion. Sometimes (especially when you’re discovering just how much power certain words can hold) the word “fuck” just can not be substituted. It only makes the story more real and rich.

Personally, I feel a great attachment to this story because I see so much of myself in the character Alaska. I spent most of my adolescence in a similar pattern of self-destruction and bi-polar tendencies. While my mother did not die, I had other demons with which I had to deal—for one, I was sexually abused most of my childhood by a stream of men I had come to trust—so, my behavior later as a teen was indicative of my searching to solidify the meaning of those early experiences. I had long struggled with the question of “Why didn’t you stop them?” And so, like Alaska I “became impulsive, scared by her inaction into perpetual action…” and became self-destructive and promiscuous. And like Alaska, I had several brushes with death—some of them self-inflicted.

Luckily, I survived. I’m in awe that a fictionalized story like Looking for Alaska could capture so much realistic emotion and behavior. Hopefully, it will touch young lives and give them an opportunity to share those experiences vicariously rather than having to live them out. And for those of whom it is too late, they’ll feel that they are not so alone after all.

Reviews for Looking for Alaska (per

From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—From the very first page, tension fills John Green's Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel (Dutton, 2005). ...This novel is about real kids dealing with the pressures of growing up and feeling indestructible. Listeners will be riveted as the friends band together to deal with the catastrophic events that plague their junior year, and rejoice at their triumphs. Jeff Woodman clearly delineates the voices for each character in an age-appropriate, smart-alecky manner, injecting great emotion while managing not to be overly sentimental. This story belongs in all collections for older young adults, especially those who like Chris Crutcher, David Klass, and Terry Trueman.

Publishers Weekly
Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author.

Michael L. Printz Award
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Quick Pick
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year