"When you're starting out, first learning how to read and ready to fall in love with reading, negative reading experiences are in no way the reader's fault. But then we grow up, mature as readers, learn how to read a book, and gain more responsibility for our reading experience. Or we should."
"In the reading relationship, the reader has as much power as the writer, I believe. You choose the stories you want to read, you choose how quickly you read, when you read, if you keep reading, if you reread. You visualize the characters, the story, the sounds and smells and feelings. You take lifeless words and bring them to life. You're like the director of the movie, taking the raw words of a script and blowing them up into full color on the screen. To a large extent, a movie viewer is merely a witness to the story, but a reader is a participant in the story. This is what makes reading such a profoundly intimate experience, so unique reader-to-reader, and also so powerful."
It was interesting to see John Green's response to a review of his first book, Looking For Alaska.
While I loved the book when I first read it--months before it became the big hit that it did--I knew that there would be plenty of folks with reservations about it. This is one of those great "example" books. I'll clarify if I can. I grew up in a Christian home and attended a Christian school. (Found much hypocrisy in the school, but stayed in the faith nonetheless.) Our library would never in a hundred million years consider having Looking for Alaska on their shelves. They didn't have ANY actual YA titles in the collection. It was kiddie books (books geared for the 8-12 crowd) or classics--you know Jane Eyre, Little Women, Pilgrim's Progress. But actual books set in the real world featuring real teens, so wasn't going to happen. So I missed hundreds of books growing up. I never "experienced" YA until I was in college. Here is the part where it is about to get relevant, I read Looking for Alaska and my heart ached just a little thinking about how there would be people who wouldn't give it a chance at all because of the "obscenities" and such. I certainly respect the opposition, that parents have the right to have a say in what their children read, but it makes me a little sad too. My philosophy is you don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Yes, there might be elements you dislike in a book, but if there's enough good within it, it merits a chance. There is so much of value within the book, don't let a handful of scenes spoil the entire book. After all it is these scenes that make you squirm that you could use as opportunities to have conversations with your teens. Discussions, good. Questioning, good. Higher thinking, always a plus.
Again, as a person of faith, there will be elements in certain books that I may not like, may not enjoy, may not be thrilled with. But I always recognize the value of the book as a whole. (And I know my own bias as well; I can go outside myself to a certain extent.) And for a book to make you think, to engage your mind as much as Looking for Alaska does, well, you just can't ignore that kind of good. But to clarify, I completely respect that it isn't a book for everyone. No one can like/love every book. And it's fine if you don't love a book. And it's fine for parents to say "no" or "not yet" when it comes to their own children. (As long as they don't cross the line into what other kids/teens should be reading.) And books do have ages it's inappropriate/appropriate for. (I don't think anyone would want to see this one in the hands of an eight or ten year old.)
This is going back to being slightly off topic, but I think there comes a time when parents have just got to trust their own kids to think for themselves, to decide for themselves, to trust in their own hard work of "raising" them. If they're not grounded (have a firm foundation of morals, values, beliefs) by a certain point, then you should probably be worried about bigger stuff than if they're going to be picking up a book like this one.
For the record, my comments on this issue are not a reaction against the reviewer in question. Really. They are thoughts I had upon the initial reading, but haven't found a forum to share.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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