“we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.” -Looking for Alaska

I just finished Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan, the second of two books I checked out from the Springville Road Library – the first books of many I will be reading during this year off between school and life experiences.  The first book I checked out and read was Looking for Alaska, by John Green, the same John Green who collaborated with David Levithan for WG, WG.

And wow.

These two books were amazing.  I’d first heard of them through tumblr, but especially Looking for Alaska (which I’ll abbreviate as LFA from now on).  Everyone on tumblr seems to worship this book, and I’d seen a few excerpts from it and thought there might be a reason behind this holy love for the book, so I checked it out with WG, WG, and began reading.

LFA takes place in Alabama, at a fictional boarding school called Culver Creek, and although the geography is a little strange (Montevallo is mentioned and the mileage from Birmingham and Culver Creek and Pelham doesn’t add up, but it doesn’t matter), Green himself went to Indian Springs, and so his descriptions of Alabama are pretty perfect.  For instance, the main character is from Florida, and in discussing the head there versus here:

This did not prepare me for the unique sort of heat that one encounters fifteen miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, at Culver Creek Preparatory School.  My parents’ SUV was parked in the grass just a few feet outside my dorm room, Room 43.  But each time I took those few steps to and from the car to unload what now seemed like far too much stuff, the sun burned through my clothes and into my skin with a vicious ferocity that made me genuinely fear hellfire.

Pretty true, right?  Apparently John Green lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and attended Indian Springs, so he has firsthand experience with the heat of Alabama, and I thought while reading that he might be from here or have lived here because of his knowledge of this sort of thing.

So, LFA, by pure virtue of taking place in Alabama, fifteen miles south of Birmingham to be exact, drew me in almost immediately.  While it helps in a book to have landmarks or places or names you know – such as I-65, Pelham, Birmingham, etc. – that’s not the reason I love this book.  Green just has a way with words, and both LFA and WG, WG made me think about authors of ‘teen’ books – or at least John Green and David Levithan – and how amazing they are at describing the teen experience.

There are things both LFA and WG, WG have described that I can relate to so well because I am like a character or see some of myself in a character, but it made me wonder just how much each of us is in a character.  We were all teenagers once if we are no longer teenagers, and we all have struggled with various things these characters have struggled with, and the wonderful thing about Green and Levithan is that they haven’t forgotten this in their age (both in their 30’s, far enough removed from their teen years to perhaps be disgruntled with teenagers as I already am at the age of 21).  Reading these books – especially WG, WG, as I related more to both the Will Graysons than I did Pudge or the Colonel from LFA, but of course could relate to them too – threw me back to the teenage experience, to the almost overwhelming of emotions and hormones and the irrational thoughts that “NO ONE KNOWS HOW I AM FEELING! NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!” – yet I am far enough removed from that to say, Wow, I sure have grown a hell of a lot from that person.

How do young adult authors do it?  Do they just channel their teenage selves?  Yet, these kids have individual qualities, they are their own person, and each have different struggles.  I related more to the non-capitalized will grayson than the capitalized Will Grayson because he also struggles with depression and feels many things I felt as a teenager (though he is also gay, and that comes with its own struggles as well), but there were parts of Will Grayson that I could relate to, especially with relationships.  The teen/young adult author is one to be respected, and especially a good writer of young adult/teen books.  Teenagers are hard to deal with, much less write about, but Green and Levithan are amazing at it.

I think young adult/teen books are good for adults to read, especially I would think if one has a kid that age.  I plan on buying both these books and revisiting them over the years to see how my perspective on them and the characters changes, if it does at all.  I think it’s important for everyone to revisit their teen years to an extent, especially when dealing with current teenagers, to really understand why they act the way they do and how to deal with that.  I’m not a parent, so I don’t know firsthand, but I know from my own grief-causing stints as a teenager and looking back on them now how infuriating it must have been to deal with that.  For a kid who never did things like get detention, do drugs and alcohol, run away from home, I certainly did my own share of horrible teenager-y things.  But reading these books made me realize I wasn’t alone in feeling so many feelings, that it’s really a universal sort of thing.

So, this post kind of went in a direction I wasn’t thinking about or planning, but my writing tends to do that (if it’s not for a paper).  The point is that I think every adult can gain something from reading good teen novels, like Looking for Alaska and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as well as current teens and young adults.  I don’t know if I’m still considered a young adult fiction-wise, but I didn’t find the writing to be below my level and I laughed and cried at both books – laughing aloud and getting the question, “What are you laughing at?” multiple times.  I would recommend these books to anyone, because although some of the character may drive you crazy, I believe anyone could benefit from them.

There are so many quotes I could quote as my favorite, but I’ll save that for another entry because this one’s long enough.  However, I’ll leave with one of many great quotes from Looking for Alaska.

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. […] You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining the future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” -John Green, Looking for Alaska

Books down for the year: 2
Books to go: ???

PS: This books counter will become a new thing for my blog; I’ll use it to track just how many books I read during this year and to serve as a topic to write on, since I’m so bad at coming up with things to write about!

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One thought on ““we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.” -Looking for Alaska

  1. Pingback: License to Spill

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