SUMMARY from GoodReads:
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.
Some people may argue that this book is too mainstream, and that’s why they don’t want to read it, and I see their point of view, but the fact that some books are too mainstream make me want to read them even more, because it just sparks my curiosity. The question is: Is it really that good? And all you really have to do is find out for yourself.
I don’t know how to write this review. I don’t think I was really prepared for this book. This is my first book for John Green and I’ve heard mixed reviews many times about this one, his debut. It has been there every time I’ve turned on the internet, browsed review sites, or gone into a bookshop. I didn’t really have much idea about what Looking For Alaska was all about before I started reading it. I knew that it has a massive fan base, but no idea about the story itself. I highly recommend going into this book blind like I did, because I feel it amplified my emotions. I was caught off guard and went on an emotional rollercoaster with this one.
‘Looking for Alaska’ is a painful book to read but I didn’t know how much until the halfway mark when BAM!! Surprise, surprise. I didn’t mean to sit down and read it then and there – I was in the middle of a very captivating different book! But I glanced at the first page, and then I flipped to carry on, and before I knew it I was halfway through.
BE WARNED! This review may contain SPOILERS for those who have yet to read the amazing-ness that is Looking for Alaska!
“How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” — Simón Bolívar
I’ve started this with a quote, but those famous last words really are relevant to this book.
They say that the best books are the ones that stay with you long after you close the cover. I guess, then, that this book makes my list, since I was up until the early hours of the morning, long after I had actually finished it. Only a few books have ever stopped me from falling in to the land of dreams after I had turned off my torch.
In Looking For Alaska, John Green tells the story of Miles, a smart, skinny teen, and a kid obsessed with memorizing famous last words. He decides to go to the same boarding school his father attended in the hopes of finding a different life. The reason; well according to Miles it is because of François Rabelais’ famous last words “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. At this new school Miles experiences a lot of firsts, first friends, first cigarette, first kiss, first love and first heartbreak.
When I first started reading this book, it took me a while to really get into it. I thought that, going by the blurb, that it was going to be a love story between Pudge and Alaska but it turned out to be so much more than that. When I did really get into the story, I lost myself in it. I really lost myself in the story, I forgot everything around me, and that is (one of) the criteria for a really great book. So, it started out a bit slow but definitely went straight up from there.
The book is in two parts, the chapters marked with the days leading up to the ultimate, shocking event, both with 136 days BEFORE and AFTER the event. Anyway, the first half was so good. Amazing even. However, in the days afterwards, it started to go downhill. It started to get tedious, boring, went on and on about the same thing. It was also much shorter, or at least, the ‘After’ bit is the whole point of the naming of the book.
Green able to tap into the mind of an everyday ordinary teenage boy and describe the day to day goings on in such a way, that even though it’s an ordinary life, feels extraordinary when you take it in.
The characters are written with such realism that it’s hard to forget you’re reading a work of fiction. I mean, drinking Strawberry Hill, smoking in the bathroom with the shower on to hide the fumes, mixing your liquor in milk, a suit case that transforms into your coffee table, confidence issues, experiencing your first sex. This is a coming of age story at its rawest.
But it’s also more than that. Because it’s about relationships as well. It’s about making friends despite your differences; it’s about falling in love. It doesn’t pretend that all friendships are smooth. The characters are complex and slightly stereotyped and layered.
The characters, both teachers and students (The Eagle and Takumi made me laugh) and descriptions were all so original and different to many things I’ve read before. You get to see into what it’s like to be a teenager and John Green has done this successfully as well, the things they did DO happen now.
‘Looking for Alaska’ is one of his most heart-wrenching works of fiction. I don’t even know if I can call the protagonist, our main narrative voice the central character. Although we see everything through his eyes, everything through his heart the central character is arguable Alaska Young, and enigma wrapped in a riddle and dipped in a million little candy-coated mysteries. She can never be properly understood, never be entirely worked out but, nevertheless, you love her as much as protagonist Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter does. One thing that I admire about John Green is that he creates characters with depth.
Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter, well, his name’s not in the title, but he just so happens to be our narrator. He was a really cool character. I loved Miles because I recognized 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.
Alaska Young, for whom the book is named, is a character you can’t help but love and get frustrated with. She is a girl well known for her pranks in the school, and even people who don’t get on with her love her. She is moody, crazy, unpredictable, the one who steals Miles’ heart. We, as the reader never fully understand her. Green manages to make her as elusive and fleeting as she is to her ‘friends’. She is however, the most magnetic feature of this novel. Everything seems better when she is present. Everything has more life and substance when Green includes her.
Chip ‘Colonel’ Martin, he may seem like a really tough guy that would rather die than open up to people, he’s a really nice friend inside. He is Alaska’s best friend and Miles’ roommate. Gets his nickname from being the strategic mastermind behind the schemes that Alaska creates. Takumi Hikohito, a Japanese friend of Alaska and Chip. Who often feels left out of Miles, Chip, and Alaska’s plans.
After reading the book I have to admit that it’s not for everyone. There will be those that will love the novel and there will be those who won’t enjoy it as much. For me it fell somewhere in the middle ground. While it’s true that I got wrapped up in reading the story Green was telling; at times it grated on my nerves with the excessive use of quirky teenage behavior that I found hard to reconcile with my own experiences and the experiences of those I have met.
This book held both good and bad points. The ‘After’ bit held really good and emotional points which illustrated the grief caused by such an event and how different people deal with it. The book’s structure also wasn’t what I had expected. I rather liked the “aftermath” of the book more so than the “before” of it. That’s where Green’s writing talent really stood out. It just felt like everything that he was leading toward and building up with the whole book was contained in the “after” of the book.
Green’s insights on Death and the great unknown were beautifully expressed and offered some form of comfort. A way of maybe finding a way through the grief over time and coming to terms with the tragedy that occurs in everyone’s lives at one time or another. The novel gives hope.
One thing that makes this book very entertaining to read is the wonderful quotes from the book. Yes… I know there’s a lot, but this book was full of amazing quotes!
“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.”
“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”
“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. 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 hurricane.”
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”
“At some point, you just pull off the Band-Aid, and it hurts, but then it’s over and you’re relieved.”
“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.”
“Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in the back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home.”
“At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze.”
Looking for Alaska covers all the aspects of teen life, sex, drugs and rebellion. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this book that you don’t even realize when reading it normally – only at the end.
Overall, I think John Green has done a great job, especially as this was his debut, however, there are points where it isn’t as good and slightly rushed. It does give a good insight into a teenager’s live and how they deal with big personal issues such as the main event in the novel and acts as a lesson for other teenagers on how to deal with their grief and guilt. I really enjoyed this book still though, despite some of the low points. I am going to look for more of his books in the future.
It’s a book I want to go back to again and again. Exquisite, painful, and filled with hope as well as the idea of a beyond and forgiveness. I’m so glad this book chased me, and that I finally gave in and read it.
My answer to Alaska’s question is easy. I wouldn’t get out. This labyrinth of pain is life, so I would live it for myself, and of the people I had lost along the way. I would treat every day as if it was my last; be a teenager. Fall in love. Follow my dreams. Get drunk (although not as much as she did). Make mistakes and learn from them. Because, as the book shows, there is pain in life, but there are also the moments you never want to forget.
From the laughs to the sobs, the highs to the lows, the pranks, fights, disasters and mysteries ‘Looking for Alaska’ is a modern classic.