Looking for Alaska by John Green
“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.”
Summary by Johanna Lewis, NY Public Library: Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent - no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps," he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious. Green's dialogue is crisp, especially between Miles and Chip. His descriptions and Miles's inner monologues can be philosophically dense, but are well within the comprehension of sensitive teen readers. The chapters of the novel are headed by a number of days "before" and "after" what readers surmise is Alaska's suicide. These placeholders sustain the mood of possibility and foreboding, and the story moves methodically to its ambiguous climax. Miles's narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles's A Separate Peace(S & S, 1960), Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends.
I've read many rave reviews on Green's books (particularly The Fault in our Stars) and so I decided to start a JG stalker read (where I read the all the best books from an author :D). Anyways, I started Looking for Alaska with pretty high expectations and Green definitely did not disappoint.
I was impressed with the ways Green dealt with suicide, feminism (YES GREEN! THANK YOU!), friendship, loss, religion and grief. He masterfully told this story without making it seem too preachy or heavy-handed. One feature I particularly enjoyed was that Looking for Alaska had subtle underlying meanings. I often come across YA books that scream their themes throughout the book so frequently that the story aspect cannot be appreciated. Green did not push thought provoking ideas upon me, I discovered them for myself as I read the book.
Another great thing about Green's writing, his pacing is absolutely perfect. He builds the plot and character development as we near the climax. And after, he continues to promote interest in the theme and transform his characters. I loved that he told the story in a 'before and after' format. It really built suspense and made me aware that something important/ life-changing was going to happen. I have to tell you guys, if the book seems a little meandering at the beginning, PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. The 'after' part of the novel is totally worth it- Green triumphs with it because it contains everything his novel was building towards. If Looking for Alaska was just another teenage-love-and-trouble-at-an-academy novel, I would have been really irritated, but it wasn't (thank goodness). It was much more realistic than I expected it to be. While LFA could have descended into a pit of melodrama and angst, it instead stayed true and genuine.
Although this book met my expectations, it did not exceed them due to a few... awkward points. You've probably heard my many comments on the unrealistic representations of teenage life authors portray in their novels. So I was deeply disappointed, to say the least, when I read a disgusting and highly explicit scene that in no way contributed to the overall understanding of LFA's theme. It made me think, 'How much is too much for me to know as a reader?' Must you (Green) really go into detail when writing sexual scenes?!
Another thing I disliked were the quirky and yet stereotypical characters. Green had the badass girl, the geeky nerd, the asian and the funny guy-friend. I've never read a book with this many stock characters. Irksome indeed. On to the quirkiness... although I'd probably describe myself as an overachiever (wince :/) and unconventional, I definitely would not be on the same scale as Green's trivia-spouting, wise beyond their years, genius-in-disguise characters. This distanced me from the characters and left me looking up words I didn't even know existed... D: Way to make me feel stupid, Green.
In conclusion (a horrible way to begin concluding my review, I know), Looking for Alaska was an outstanding coming-of-age novel and I definitely recommend this to you guys! One thing to keep in mind, Looking for Alaska may be a great book, but it's not for everybody. Readers may not glean all from it that the author intends and find the explicit content highly offensive. Personally, those were issues I had with the book, yet I still found Looking for Alaska WORTH MY TIME and I can't wait to read Green's other books! 9/10 :)
PS- (Just wanted to share this) I was rather impressed with Green's reason for writing: " I believe there is hope for us all. Even amid the suffering--and maybe even inside the suffering. And that's why I write fiction, probably. It's my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness." WOW. After I read that, I just sat back and stared at my screen. I love that Green believes he's trying to keep sanity in an insane world. It gives a whole new purpose to writing. Just wanted to share that quote with you guys :)
Talking about quotes...(sorry, I know I'm beginning to ramble D:) I totally forgot to mention one of the biggest reasons I loved Looking for Alaska. It's INSANELY quoteable. I love books that contain millions of thought- provoking quotes and this one is definitely one of those. Here are a few of my favourites to end this review off...
"When you stopped wishing things wouldn't fall apart, you'd stop suffering when they did.”
“I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.”
“We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.”
"If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” (This quote kinda reminds me of Stargirl...)
“Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." That's why I'm going. So I don't have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”
Posted by angelaf