Parents need to know that this book hits all the controversial pulse points: drinking, sex, bad language, and smoking, including marijuana smoking, but as Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee, says in the publisher’s discussion guide, “There is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) gratuitous in this book. Everything in it serves to define character, give style to voice, and develop theme.” Indeed, this award-winning book is on many high school reading lists and can help both teachers and parents talk about loss, friendship, and the importance of self-discovery.

From the Author: Anonymous asked: *coughs* All your other questions are deeply intelligent, or spiritual. Mine is a little different. Was the BJ scene based on something that actually happened?

Right, let’s talk about the blow job. (I am not going to comment on my private sexual life, because…ew. No one wants that.)

The oral sex scene in Looking for Alaska between Lara and Pudge takes place immediately before a far less sexually intimate but far more emotionally intimate encounter between Pudge and Alaska.

The language in the oral sex scene is extremely clinical and distant and unsensual. The word “penis” is used rather than member or hot rod or whatever else you’ll find in romance novels. The adverbs and adjectives that appear in that scene include weirdnervous, and quizzically.

This is in very stark contrast to the scene where Pudge and Alaska kiss a few pages later: “Our tongues dancing back and forth in each other’s mouth until there was no her mouth and my mouth but only our mouths intertwined. She tasted like cigarettes and Mountain Dew and wine and Chap Stick. Her hand came to my face and I felt her soft fingers tracing the line of my jaw.” There’s a lot of evoking of senses in that paragraph (some might argue too much), and it’s much sexier and more passionate than the language used to describe the blow job.

I wanted these two scenes to present a dramatic contrast because I wanted it to be clear 1. that Pudge and Lara were curious about each other, and interested in exploring, but not really that passionate about each other, whereas 2. Alaska and Pudge were clearly very passionate and caring and attentive in the way they kiss, and most importantly that 3. physical intimacy isn’t and can never be an effective substitute for emotional intimacy.

It seemed to me pretty obvious that I was arguing against vapid sexual encounters in which no one has any fun and celebrating the underappreciated virtues of super-hot kissing in which everyone keeps their clothes on. (Some censors, clearly, feel otherwise, although most of them never read the blow job scene in context.)

Also, while we’re on the topic, let me just say how tired I am of seeing gauze-filtered teen sex scenes with candles and beautiful bodies that know exactly what to do, because I just don’t think that reflects the truth, which is awkward and messy and human.