Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Speak/ HarperCollins Children’sBooks (UK)
Publication date: March 2005/ July 2006 (UK)
Paperback: 272 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
First drink, first prank, first friend, first girl, last words! A poignant and moving crossover novel about making friends and growing up from American author, John Green. Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words — and tired of his safe, boring and rather lonely life at home. He leaves for boarding school filled with cautious optimism, to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.
Why did I read the book: John Green is right now, one of my favorite writers.
How did I get the book: Bought.
I don’t know how to write this review. I don’t think I was really prepared for this book even though I read all of John Green’s books; ironically, I read this one last, but this is actually his first and all I have to say about this is: REALLY? This is John Green’s first book? Holy $£%^! Expletives aside, I was expecting something I didn’t get, but what I got was so much better. This is probably his most serious and thoughtful book which is to say a lot, because all of his books are to some extent, serious and thoughtful. It is also a painful book to read but I didn’t know how much until the halfway mark when BAM, surprise, surprise and this is partly what makes this review a difficult one to write because Looking for Alaska is a book that can’t be spoiled and I therefore, can’t discuss some parts of the story the way I would have wanted – but I believe this is for the Ultimate Good because this is a Wonderful Book!
Are these Grandiose Exclamations with Capital Letters really a necessity, you might be asking yourself, to wit, I say, yes, yes they are and they are actually quite fitting as well, given as how this book deals with the meaning of life, with guilt and grief, with last words and first loves; all from the point of view of Miles Halter, 16 year old, a skinny, nerdy guy. He is friendless, lonely, and his greatest quirk is to read biographies in search of last words. François Rabelais’s is:
“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” and is in search of his Great Perhaps that Miles decides to attend the Culver Creek Boarding School where he hopes to start anew. There he makes friends with his roommate Chip, aka “the Colonel” (who immediately starts calling Miles, Pudge) , a guy named Takumi and their best friend, a girl called Alaska Young. Alaska is the wild, beautiful, intelligent, moody, mysterious, unattainable girl whom Miles falls irrevocably in love with.
The book is divided between Before and After and I did not know (for a change I went in completely unspoiled) what is going to be the pivotal point of divide until it hits but there is an inescapable sense of dread as the days pass, building the After. The event is indeed calamitous and it’s only when it happens that the different between the Before and After becomes oh, so clear. The Before is made up of routine, of monotony, of mundane happenings: kids going to classes, coming up with pranks, drinking, smoking, doing stupid things, hooking up and talking to each other about Stuff like Simón Bolívar’s last words:
‘How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”
So what’s the labyrinth?’ I asked her…
That’s the mystery, isn’t it? Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape- the world or the end of it?”
This “labyrinth” becomes a central discussion encompassing all characters at one point, when the After comes. That’s when the book loses the mundane and reaches the momentous. And it is a grave, serious, painful and genuine journey until we are able to close the book.
I loved Miles because I recognised quite a bit of my teenage self in him. This sense of knowing exactly how certain things are and feel is definitely a plus when trying to understand a character. Even though Alaska is not a favourite (Too moody? Too mysterious? Too fantastic? ) , I can certainly get why Miles would fall in love with her so easily and so abruptly because I know how some people have a certain gravitational field that entrance others. But in any case, I don’t think that the book is about Alaska any more than Paper Towns was about Margo Roth Spiegelman. The girls are mirrors or windows from which to observe the boy-narrator’s lives and this is perhaps my greatest criticisms: that the girls are more out of this world, impossible realities that serve more as plot-propeller than concrete characters in themselves. I am sure some will disagree with me, but this is how I felt about both Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young and to some extent I feel these girls deserved more. BUT and this is a great but, as I said before the books ARE more about how these two influence and touch the guys’ lives so my point might as well be moot.
John Green’s prose is insanely good writing because it is the kind of writing that creeps in little by little and it’s like I start reading a paragraph and it seems like any regular paragraph in the world of books, until I reach its end and then it hits me and I realise that there is more beauty in one single paragraph of a John Green book than in entire book collections out there.
But what makes John Green’s books wonderful books to me is the fact that I think about them, about the decisions and revelations and lines for hours and days in a row. Sometimes, I forget the name of the characters, sometimes, I forget the details of the stories, but I have yet to forget the ideas and the meaning and the feelings that I felt when I read his books. I remember laughing until my belly ached with An Abundance of Katherines or daydreaming about connectivity after reading Paper Towns and I am sure I will keep on thinking about the last words of this book for a long, long time.
At one point, Miles thinks (with regards to Alaska):
So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.
And I think this is an apt way of describing John Green’s books as well. Most books are drizzle but John Green’s are totally hurricanes.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Some wonderful quotes from the book:
What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minutes, instant pudding an hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.
We were kissing.
I thought: This is good.
I thought: I am not bad at this kissing. Not bad at all.
I thought: I am clearly the greatest kisser in the history of the universe.
Suddenly she laughed and pulled away from me. She wiggled a hand out of her sleeping bag and wiped her face. “You slobbered on my nose,” she said, and laughed.
Additional Thoughts:I have the honour and the pleasure to say that tomorrow we will post an article written by John Green for our blog on the inspirations and ideas behind writing Paper Towns and, courtesy of Bloosmbury PLC, we will have 15 copies of that book to giveaway. Make sure to come back tomorrow!
Verdict: Looking for Alaska is another fantastic John Green book and that means that there is a lot of food for thought, a great narrator, and the usual, great writing that I have come to expect from this author.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto by Eric Luper