on March 30, 2005
...and read this book in one sitting. Okay, it's short and incredibly good, which makes it easy to bolt down. But then you are going to feel like an idiot for not savoring the pleasure, and you're going to be bleary as hell the next day (if you finish it at 4 in the morning, like I did).
This book deals with the Big Ones: suffering, loss, and grief, but it does so with such compassion and humor that the net impact is uplifting. Even the principal turns out to be a human being. There are no cardboard cut-out characters here.
Be aware that the kids in this story do what kids actually do (smoke, drink, and have sex). If that bothers you, read it anyway. There are more important things in life than observing proprieties and pretending that bright kids aren't exploratory. You don't have to approve of these characters. It is enough to love them and learn from them.
on March 25, 2005
Somewhere between searching for the secret to winning at Texas Holdem in Doyle Brunson's SUPER SYSTEM II, A COURSE IN POWER POKER, and envying a 101 year old lady boat captain in Jimmy Buffett's A SALTY PIECE OF LAND, I found John Green's Young Adult Novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA.
I kept looking at the alluring cover of ALASKA on my night stand and decided that POWER POKER could wait and rushed through A SALTY PIECE.
If you have a child going to boarding school soon, goes there now or has gone there, as my son did, you must read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. If you want to understand the loneliness, happiness, mischief, joy, sorrow, sadness and a few other emotions of a teenager, you must read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. If you are convinced your teenager will not mature until much later, you better not read ALASKA. If you are concerned about the experiences that your teenager might have, do not read ALASKA. If you are a teenager, read this book!
Need help with a pair of Aces? Simple - see Doyle. Got Margaritaville on your mind? No problem - Jimmy is your man. But if you want to come of age with an extraordinarily endearing group of kids, read this book.
My son tells me it is being touted as Young Adult Fiction. I don't know about that. I can only tell you that at 64, I am a younger man for having read it.
on December 9, 2001
I am a Native Alaskan. My people have been in Alaska before it was called ALASKA. I was given Peter Jenkins book as an early holiday gift from my Uncle and wondered if he captured my people and all our people, of all groups, because almost no writers/travelers ever have.
He even found things I did not know about, like `mouse trading', from his Deering, Alaska chapter. Lines like this from the book lift me and illustrate his acute powers of perception, "Millie's voice is like a whisper but has incredible strength. I think the Eskimo way of speaking, soft, slow, focused, and songlike, comes from being listened to and from living surrounded by so much beautiful silence and life."
Actually he has been to many more places in this 590,000 square mile place than almost any Alaskan I have known. There is hilarious, witty stuff,, like this section title: "These Athletes Eat Raw Meat, Run Naked and Sleep in the Snow."
This is one white man that has a caring and discerning heart, this is by far, one of the best books on ALASKA I have ever read. We needed this kind of work here and I want to thank him for hearing my people, the Native Alaskans and all the rest of us, showing us as the alive and vivid world. Since graduating from UCLA I have yearned to be back in my homeland, for a few days reading LOOKING FOR ALASKA I have been.
on February 7, 2002
"The odds are good, but the goods are odd."
When Peter shares this quote, heard by Alaskan women referring to the choice of available males, he encapsulates so much of the Alaskan spirit found within his book. From the humorous segments of "The Police Log" to the gripping drama of the 1200 mile Iditarod race, Peter Jenkins helps us find Alaska. In his easygoing style, he takes us behind the doors of everyday Alaskans, as well as some very influential ones, and lets us taste, smell, and feel the adventure of northern life. He also reveals the tedium, the loneliness, and the dangers.
At moments, I found myself awed by the grandeur and scope of this great state; at other times, I laughed out loud--in public, I might add--at Peter's candid storytelling. Who, after reading this, could forget the bachelor auction? Or the toe-numbing descriptions of the winter trail? Or the sorrowful Tina, as she struggles with her heritage and her future?
This is what Peter does so well: he tells great stories. I can almost imagine, as I read his books (all of which I've enjoyed), that he's telling me the accounts over a campfire. He comes across in an honest and unaffected manner. He wears his heart and his spirituality on his sleeve. He lets us see behind the facades of capitalistic life in America.
On the other hand, his writing is downright clunky at times. I have to force myself to "hear" him tell the story, as opposed to editing the numerous odd sentences and wasted words. In fact, I wish a thoughtful editor had waded through here sentence by sentence. At certain points, Peter jumps from past to past perfect tense to present perfect all in one paragraph. It's the way people talk, yes; however, for me, it was a constant distraction.
Don't let my comments turn you away. "Looking for Alaska" is everything I expected and more. If people and places fascinate you, Peter will not disappoint you. Cuddle up with this book and discover new things with a man who writes from his heart. The book is good, a little odd, and ultimately lotsa fun!
on March 3, 2006
Green's debut YA novel follows a year in the life of high school junior Miles Halter, a friendless Floridian who begged his parents to enroll him in the Culver Creek boarding school. Miles dreams of starting anew at his elite Alabama prep school, of finding Francois Rabelais's "The Great Perhaps." At school, he falls in with a prankster of a roommate, the Colonel, and the sassy, sexy, messed-up Alaska Young. For an unforgettable 128 days, Miles learns life lessons in love, loyalty, friendship, literature, and poetry, as well as experiences the thrill of a first girlfriend. When tragedy strikes Culver Creek, Miles is forced to undertake an even closer examination of his own character and relationship with his friends.
This is an outstanding coming-of-age novel that has already proved to be a favorite teen read. It doesn't resort to a cop out of a "happily ever after" ending, but the characters each seek closure on their own terms. The characters are well-drawn, witty, and full of individual quirks and spunk. Green even manages to bring in the reality of cigarettes and alcohol without a preachy or over-glorifying tone. This novel has won the Teen's Top 10 award as well as the Printz Award, and Green is well on his way to YA superstardom. I'm looking forward to his next novel.
on November 13, 2001
I first became acquainted with Peter Jenkins when I read "A Walk Across America" in 1991 while I was in graduate school. I quickly bought and read "The Walk West," "The Road Unseen," "Across China," and "Close Friends." These books inspired me to seek out new relationships and new experiences as I moved to Kazakhstan to teach tri-lingual students.
"Looking For Alaska" is a book that fits in well with Peter Jenkins former books. His style reflects a more mature and reflective Peter, but one that loves to relate to new people and places just as much as in "A Walk Across America."
This is not a book that you will want to read fast, but one that you want to hold on to for as long as you can. I highly recommend this book. Peter Jenkins has allowed himself to live the adventures that we all secretly wish we could.
on July 18, 2007
John Green's ambitious YA novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, took the Michael Printz Award and probably deserves it due to its excellent characterizations of the title character (Alaska Young), the protagonist (Miles "Pudge" Halter), the protagonist's clever roommate (Chip "Colonel" Martin), and their Asian sidekick (Takumi). The setting is an Alabaman private school, Culver Creek, and the catalyst for Miles is a pair of famous last words, Francois Rabelais' "I go to seek a Great Perhaps," and Simon Bolivar's "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?"
With its academic setting, the book provides classroom and dorm room fodder for "deep" discussions, chiefly about religion, famous writers, and poets. It also indulges in a few cliches, namely the slightly dorky lead character in search of himself in a world of hormone-crazed teens who smoke, drink, and quest for sex every chance they get.
Readers may be divided on the title character -- some fascinated by the mercurial personality of Alaska, and others annoyed (as are her friends, off and on) by her constant moods and antics. What's more, the book is divided by a "before" and an "after." The "before" succeeds to a greater extent than the "after" for reasons I cannot specify due to spoiler information.
Still, I was able to overlook Alaska's whining, an easily-solved mystery at the end, and a few characters' very bad accents (phonetically spelled out by Green) due to the fact that this YA went the extra mile and didn't depend on plot alone. I had hoped to place this in my classroom library, but there's just no way due to the adult themes. Will it tempt teen readers? You bet. But schools have rules and it's not worth the possible hazards of offering age-inappropriate stuff -- even when it's GOOD age-inappropriate stuff.
on November 23, 2001
In 1973, Peter Jenkins set off with a backpack and his dog Cooper looking for America. He lived with and listened to people from every kind of life, learning much along the way. From his five-year adventure, he wrote two books: A Walk Across America and The Walk West.
Jenkins now enjoys living on his 150-acre farm in Spring Hill, Tenn. Whenever his sedentary life becomes boring, however, he knows it's time to satisfy his wanderlust; otherwise, as he puts it, he would having nothing to write about.
Stepping to the sound of a different drummer, Jenkins, accompanied by his wife Rita and daughters Rebekah and Julianne, trek northward to Alaska, "the Last Frontier," an austere land that does not suffer fools gladly.
Alaskan winters are not for the faint of heart or tender of foot. In this land of snow, ice, and bitter cold, temperatures drop to sixty, eighty, or a hundred degrees below zero. True, it is a land where one can live one's dreams--even surpass one's dreams--but where dreams may turn into nightmares.
"Alaska makes people hallucinate," writes Jenkins. "It takes hold of you, it makes some believe there is no gravity. They can enter the power and purity of it and be uninjured, jump from a mountaintop and not land on the rocks below."
From his "home base" of Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula, Jenkins travels to Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island, and on to Tok, not far from the border of Yukon Territory, where he stays at a B&B named WinterCabin: "Where the Stars Sleep Beneath the Northern Lights."
WinterCabin is owned and operated by Donna Blasor-Bernhardt, who has her annual "Before Winter List" of things to do (that must be done). Summertime in Alaska is a window of opportunity to prepare for the long, arduous winter ahead. "Winter in Tok," writes Jenkins, "needs to be spelled in all capital letters, WINTER."
Jenkins describes the running of the Iditarod (from Anchorage to Nome). He travels by snow machine (Alaskans never call them snowmobiles) above the Arctic Circle to the delightful Jayne household (Eric, Vicky, Mike, Pete, Elizabeth, and Dan), some sixty miles from Coldfoot; visits Denali National Park and the Alaska Range; lives in Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States; and moves on to Kotzebue, Deering, and Unatakleet, near the Bering Strait and the closest Russian landfall.
"[Alaska] is filled with people determined to live as free as possible of others' intervention," writes Jenkins. "Alaska may have served as the incubator for the behavior now termed politically incorrect. They despise being herded; if they were sheep, they would never go off the cliff together. More than likely, they'd trample the shepherd."
Peter Jenkins has experienced enough adventures for several lifetimes. In Looking for Alaska, perhaps the best book he has written, he will regale you with firsthand reports of life in our largest and coldest state. Jenkins didn't just zoom in and zoom out of Alaska; he lived among its people for eighteen months and won their trust.
Scattered through this volume are numerous black-and-white photos, plus 29 beautiful full-color photos. If you want an excellent holiday gift for family and friends, or an unforgettable reading experience of your own, put Looking for Alaska at the top of your must-buy book list.
on December 15, 2010
Though /Looking for Alaska/ is categorized as young adult fiction, it's an enjoyable read for any age. John Green has a talent for picking out little details in the world he creates, then using those details to remind the reader that this is a world that could have been -- indeed, it's the world we live in, and Green does a good job of convincing the reader of that.
The quality of the writing is very high, and the story is in general very good. However, I was underwhelmed by the ending of this book. There is a nice, humanizing climax in the last pages of /Alaska/, but the book sets itself up as deeper and more philosophical than it really is. John Green creates this world of living, breathing characters and sets very realistic events into motion... But in the end, not much is resolved or clarified in any profound way. That's probably a realistic portrayal of life itself, but not necessarily what one would be looking for in a book with a dust cover touting the "indelible impact" of human life.
A fun, fast read, but certainly not an "indelible" book and not a particularly deep one -- no matter how young or old an adult you may be.
on January 4, 2002
I read a lot, particularly about my favorite part of the world- Alaska, and I am so pleased that I came upon this one. To me, Peter Jenkins really captured the essence of Alaska and the draw that it has for people like myself who just have to make return visits, again and again. If you have visited Alaska, you'll appreciate what he has to say about it's scenic beauty, it's wonderful wildlife and, most importantly, the people who call this home. If you haven't yet visited Alaska, this book will serve as a great "first course". For me, a good book is one that ends too soon. This one ended way too soon.