Tag Archives: kindness

Looking For Alaska

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John Green’s first novel is my favourite of his books.  And I like them all. But this one is AWESOME.  There are twists and turns and suspense and angst and it leaves you feeling like you have been kicked in the stomach.  It. Is. GREAT.

Looking For Alaska centres around the Culver Creek Boarding School, and Miles “Pudge” Halter.  Miles rocks. He is the very reason I love this book.  He is clueless and smart and a bit of a social zero.  He is obsessed with famous last words, and craves the “Great Perhaps” (Francois Rabelais, poet).  He wants boring and safe, but gets the very opposite, becoming attached-at-the-hip friends with the Colonel, and not so secretly in love with Alaska.

Alaska is snarky and full of herself and self-destructive and sexy and so so alive.  She chooses her name and her friends the same way: impulsively and immediately.  Green builds Alaska so wonderfully, so vibrantly, with all her strengths and weakness, that you feel her joy and pain.  She proves to Miles it is worth it to leave behind his minor life for grander maybes.

Together, the two of them search for the meaning of the labyrinth, and the way out.  Alaska finds it.  And Miles realizes that maybe he is meant to remain in it.

Green’s writing is poetic and evocative.  “She was the type of jeans that you wear when you want to look nice but don’t want it to look like you tried to look nice…”  It never occurred to me that men understood that concept, until Green wrote it.

He writes authentic, fantastic characters.  I loved Alaska, but equally so Miles and the Colonel.  I was them, once upon a time, trying to figure everything out, all at once.  Feeling everything so much more than anyone else.  Green does not reach for the happy ending, but he does allow the characters to resolve their challenges and come to their own conclusions.  “Coming of age” is a term I feel is overused and miss-used, but here is a book that is the very definition.

Looking For Alaska did not make me cry.  But it did make me pause and remember what it was like to be that teen.  I loved the use of the before/after countdown; the days leading up to the event and the ones following as the friends came to terms with it were real and familiar.

This is a good book for teens.  I would say the themes are too mature for the younger readers, but those 14 and up will enjoy.

Looking For Alaska is published by Speak.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Benjamin Alire Sáenz writes a gorgeous story of friendship and love in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

“The problem with my life is that it was someone else’s idea.”  As a teen, who among us didn’t think this?  Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza is a Mexican American boy in 1987 Texas, a bit of a loner, who doesn’t really understand why he is uncomfortable in his own skin.  He thinks it might be his homelife – his remote father is a Viet Nam vet who keeps to himself, his older brother is in prison, and the family never speaks of him – but it is more than that.

Early in the summer of his 16th year, he meets Dante Quintana, another boy with the same discomfort.  Dante is an only child of loving parents, but he fears disappointing them. The boys spend the summer together, swimming, reading, staring at the stars and wondering about life.  For the first time for each of them, they have a best friend, someone who feels things the same way.

After their summer of friendship, Dante moves to Chicago for the school year.  The time apart brings his feelings to the forefront; he realizes quite quickly that while partying and kissing girls is fun, he would really rather be kissing boys.  Specifically Ari.

Dante is brave. He writes Ari often, telling him of his discovery, hoping he doesn’t freak him out. And while not totally scared off, Ari has a harder time getting his head around the idea; he is angry at Dante for loving him. It was easier when they were just friends.  Dante is not immune to the confusion either – he doesn’t want to tell his parents.  No matter how much they love him, he has trouble accepting that they will be ok with him being gay.

When it all finally culminates, there is heartbreak, and joy.

If I have a criticism of this book (and oh geez, is it totally petty, sorry), it is that Sáenz needs another word or emotion.  Everyone laughs.  All the time.  It is his go-to.

That said, it is a wonderful story of discovering and accepting who you are, and who you love.  The one major thing I do like about this book is the story illustrates how feelings of young love are universal, whether you love girls or boys. That first stomach churning uncertainty is the same.  The first kiss still takes you by surprise.

This book is appropriate for all ages.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is published by Simon and Schuster.

Wonder

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I reread RJ Palacio’s Wonder last night, in preparation for reviewing it today.  No matter how many times I read it (and it has been a lot), my reaction never changes.  I cried throughout.  Great, flooding tears.  No sobs, just fat tears rolling down my face, soaking me.

Wonder follows the story of August (Auggie) Pullman.  After spending the first years of his life being homeschooled, the 10 year old boy is going to a real school for the first time, entering Grade 5 at Beecher Prep.  There he meets new people, adults and children, who, over the course of the school year, grow and change with him.

Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity, and his life was touch and go for several years.  He lives daily with the stares and pointing and muttered words and horrified looks, but he has never had to face it alone, day after day, at school.

Palacio uses different voices to talk about the year in Auggie’s life: Auggie himself narrates several times, along with his sister Via (her chapters are incredible, you will cry, such an honest portrayal of a young teen entering high school), her new boyfriend Justin (what a sweetheart!), and Auggie’s friends Jack (a boy who realized what he had when it was gone) and Summer (an instinctively lovely and caring girl, without pity).

The amazing thing about Wonder is the sheer reality of the feeling and relationships Palacio explores.  Via’s voice is SO true, as is Auggie’s and the other childrens’.  The reactions of adults seem especially vivd and accurate;  perhaps because we see them through the eyes of the children.  Auggie’s mom and dad display the unconditional love you expect, but they are not saints, there is yelling and anger and heartbreak and normal everyday frustrations to go along with the patience and acceptance.

This story, written for the 9-11 year old, is a lesson in kindness and strength for everyone.  Make sure you have a box of tissues beside you.  Maybe two boxes, just to be safe.

You will fist-pump at the end, I promise.

Wonder is published by Alfred A. Knopf.