Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

Release Date: December 28th 2006
Published By: HarperCollins Australia
Pages: 263
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list

Rating: 5 out of 5

Synopsis: A deeply affecting coming-of-age story, Looking for Alaska traces the journey of Miles Halter, a misfit Florida teenager who leaves the safety of home for a boarding school in Alabama and a chance to explore the “Great Perhaps.” Debut novelist and NPR commentator Green perfectly captures the intensity of feeling and despair that defines adolescence in this hip, shocking, and emotionally charged work of fiction.

Miles has a quirky interest in famous people’s last words, especially François Rabelais’s final statement, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Determined not to wait for death to begin a similar quest, Miles convinces his parents to let him leave home. Once settled at Culver Creek Preparatory School, he befriends a couple of equally gifted outcasts: his roommate Chip―commonly known as the Colonel—who has a predilection for memorizing long, alphabetical lists for fun; and the beautiful and unpredictable Alaska, whom Miles comes to adore.

The kids grow closer as they make their way through a school year filled with contraband, tests, pranks, breakups, and revelations about family and life. But as the story hurtles toward its shattering climax, chapter headings like “forty-six days before” and “the last day” portend a tragic event―one that will change Miles forever and lead him to new conclusions about the value of his cherished “Great Perhaps.”

Review: 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 (Which goes along with John Green territory really), 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.

How does John Green do this? He is 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 liquer in milk, a suit case that transforms into your coffee table, confidence issues, experiencing your first blow job. This is a coming of age story at it’s 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 (and also maybe a bit about falling in lust). It doesn’t pretend that all friendships are smooth. The charatcers are complex and three dimensional and layered. Alaska herself is friendly one moment, and the next she is angry and doesn’t want to talk. And then she goes to being flirty and playful, and the next in tears. The characters are presented on paper as they would if they were real people, because that’s what we are – complex creatures. I feel like John Green has a beautiful way of highlighting this through his writing.

In particular I really appreciated the self-depreciating way that Miles is about himself. We often are told of how perfect our YA boys are, yet one of the very first things Miles talks about himself is to say that he has no friends, is not popular, and is far too skinny. He carries these insecurities with him throughout the book, and it’s clear that Alaska and Lara both don’t share the same sentiments as they mention how hot they find him, but our protagonist has his hang ups about himself.

This is the second John Green book I’ve read (I also read The Fault In Our Stars) and both books were absolutely wonderful and evoked strong emotions in their own ways. Any praise John Green gets is so well deserved. I am definitely planning on reading his other books after this experience.

Quotes:

“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.”

What do you think?

  • I LOVED this book as well! I also had no idea what it was about, but when I started to see it was counting down to something … I got scared and couldn’t put the book down until I found out what happened. Which was a shocker. I love your analyse of Green’s writing style. He really is able to make the ordinary extraordinary.

    That being said, I only have one critique on Green. Compare Looking for Alaska to Paper Town. I really enjoyed both books (Looking for Alaska more so), but strip down the plot and you have the same book. Q of Paper Town is Miles. Margo of Paper Town is so much like Alaska.

    Even so, I really love John Green and love vlogbrothers.

    Great review!

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