I start many young adult books, give them five or ten pages, and then abandon them, because I quickly come across mature language or content that guarantees they are not ever going to become part of my elementary school classroom library. There are other YA books that keep the language and content in the PG-13 zone, which means I feel comfortable having them available to my 11- and 12-year-old kids. And there are still other YA books which I'll never shelve in my classroom library, again because of the mature language and/or content, but they are soooo good, that I finish and enjoy them anyway. Usually in less than 24 hours from the time I start them. Looking for Alaska falls in this final category.
Warning: spoilers to follow. You'll probably enjoy it more without knowing too much, so stop here if you wanna give it a go.
I was completely hooked and really enjoyed the whole book, but there were a couple things that bothered me. First, I wasn't surprised at all when Alaska died. I saw it coming from a long ways off. And I had the whole thing about the anniversary of her mother's death figured out too. So the plot, at times, was too predictable. Also, I know that part of the point of the whole story was that Alaska was this very complicated person that couldn't be easily understood, but I still felt like I needed, as a reader, not as a teenager in love, to know her a bit better. I was far more moved by Pudge's and the Colonel's grieving than by any sense that a girl I cared for was dead. I really enjoyed Pudge's voice and character, (which I recognize was the limiting factor in giving us a fuller development of Alaska's character), and that boy-boy bond between Pudge and the Colonel was so awkward and tender and excellent. Yes, I definitely enjoyed the book, and certainly recommend it.
And, for the record, I think all these YA books, this one included, ought to be available in all middle school libraries. One of the first YA books I read and loved, after Catcher in the Rye, was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This wonderful little gem is making news today, in The New York Times, no less, for being challenged by parents after being added to a summer reading list. I know our first response is supposed to be abhorrence when we hear that great books are being challenged, but I was pretty excited to see all these teachers and administrators all being so quick to defend their decision. They all read it, they all recognized it's value, and they all refused to back down. It's nice to see education professionals with such strong spines. I requested Perks from the library because it's been a long while since I read it.