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Student Book Recommendation: Looking For Alaska

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John Green's novel Looking for Alaska appeals to the adolescent need to connect and find meaning in life.
John Green's novel Looking for Alaska appeals to the adolescent need to connect and find meaning in life.

Around the winter holidays, two of my students presented me with a lovely card and the gift of a novel. Always interested in what my students are reading, I took interest in their selection, especially because they recommended it so highly. Unfortunately, life made it difficult for me to carve out the time to read it until this current Spring Break.

Looking for Alaska by John Green has all of the appeal and character of a modern day Catcher in the Rye. It seeks to answer the big questions about life and what motivates us.

Miles, the protagonist in the novel goes searching for "The Great Perhaps". Shipping himself off to boarding school and taking refuge and interest in famous people's dying words, he longs to connect with his peers in a way he hasn't at the school by his home.

Admittedly when I began reading the novel, I wasn't quite sure if I'd continue and began to question the taste of the students who shared it. On some level, I felt like perhaps I had "aged out" of this kind of coming of age novel. No longer an adolescent, was this novel going to hold up for a grown up?

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Persistent in my pursuit, (I always make good on promises and me and one of the students had a deal - my share was to read to the novel) I committed to reading at least 100 pages and if it didn't get better, I felt that I had given it an adequate chance. Luckily, around page 93 something changed. It was no longer the dull meanderings of teenage isolation and friendship, but something more.

Since I have no interest in spoiling the novel if you anyone is considering reading it, I will say this: The characters have personality that you can grow to care about. Their relationships have depth and are relatable (even to an adult) and can even be nostalgic. Grappling with big questions about life never grows tiresome and the relevance of the answers here are novel.

No matter how old I get, the challenges of understanding why we are all here and how little control we have over life never stops astounding me. We can make all of the "right" choices and still bad things happen to good people. Through these events, however, we each have opportunities to create, grow and develop into better people and get one step closer to an intimate understanding of why we must ask these driving questions.

Making meaning is the human condition. Philosophizing about the nature of outcomes and cultivating a greater understanding of ourselves so that we can find our own "Great Perhaps" propels us to keep asking. At 35, I may be closer to knowing me and what the meaning of life is, but still the question marks exist. It isn't until our final breaths and utterances that the journey ceases. Looking for Alaska is worth the time, especially because it offered an opportunity to connect with my students on a deeper level. Thanks for the recommendation Luca and Nisaa :)

Have you read, Looking for Alaska? What did you think?


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Starr Sackstein currently works at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, N.Y., as a high-school English and journalism teacher. She is the author of Teaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective, Blogging for Educators, Teaching Students to Self-Assess, Hacking Assessment, The Power of Questioning and Simply May . She blogs for Education Week Teacher on “Work in Progress” in addition to her personal blog StarrSackstein.com where she discusses all aspects of being a teacher. Sackstein co-moderates #sunchat and contributes to #NYedChat. In speaking engagements, Sackstein speaks about blogging, journalism education, throwing out grades and BYOD, helping people see technology doesn’t have to be feared. Follow her @MsSackstein on Twitter.
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Guest Thursday, 15 November 2018