Looking for Alaska by John Green
Puffin, 256 pages
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy 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. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.
I have been seeing John green’s novels for a while now, but I never had the time to pick them up. I think I saw Paper Towns first, but they reviews were saying that Looking for Alaska has more awards, so I was always on the lookout for it. Of course, I promptly forgot all about it, until I saw other book bloggers I am following posting reviews on his books. After one particularly boring night at work where I wrestled with the urge to buy a new book, I got this one, thinking his first novel should be a good place to discover if John Green is really as good as people say he is.
I guess I wasn’t sure what I was expecting in this novel, except maybe for a dorky guy character to fall in love with a cool but not exactly popular girl, and will turn his world upside down as he tries to get out of his shell to impress her. I can’t remember where I read this, but I hear John Green is the king of nerdy guys in contemporary YA. I have yet to prove that, but with Looking for Alaska, I was very surprised. I can’t say pleasantly, but I was surprised.
I won’t say much about the story, so as not to ruin a reading experience of those who haven’t read this yet. Looking for Alaska is about Miles “Pudge” Halter, who transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School in search of The Great Perhaps. Here he meets new friends Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi, and Alaska Young, the girl across the hall that rocks Miles’ world and ultimately divides his world into a “Before” and “After”. I wasn’t sure about what “After” meant in the book until I got to it, and that was where I experienced John Green’s magic with words.
The question that readers will get here is the same question that Alaska and the other characters wrestled with: How will I get out of this labyrinth of suffering? I admit that it’s not a question that I would ask myself. I’m generally a cheerful and happy person, with random bursts of sentimentality and sadness every now and then. I can relate to Miles a lot in the sense that his life is generally okay: good parents, good school, and no big traumatic problems in his past. Save for the lack of a group of friends (or even just a single friend), we’re pretty much the same. I guess I can say his approach to the labyrinth would be essentially the same as mine: pretend it doesn’t exist, and live in a self-sufficient world. But one can only live like that for so long, until the suffocation of living on my own will crush me and break me, just as like those people who get lost in their own labyrinths. I don’t think there is ever one answer to this question, because I think every person has their own labyrinths, and it’s never the same with others. I thought that Miles’ answer to the question was brilliant, though, and it may be one of good exit plans that other people (myself included) use in their own labyrinths.
I don’t know if that paragraph made sense, but I hope it does when you decide to read this book. Looking for Alaska is more than your nerdy guy meets cool girl and things change story. This is a surprisingly heavy book that deals with a lot of growing up issues, yet John Green’s prose made it somewhat light and funny, and poignant all at the same time. This isn’t the same world I grew up in (with all the smoking and sex and all that going on. And by smoking, it’s real cigarettes and not the fake ones, so no one is wondering about the taste of an electronic cigarettes), but this world felt real and their situations were something that I know other teens can get into, and it’s something that I appreciate. John Green doesn’t sacrifice dialogue for it to sound real (one that I think Take Me There by Susane Colasanti kind of failed in), but instead makes use of the setting and the situations to bring us all into Miles’ world.
I think my favorite lesson in Looking for Alaska was how you never really own a person, regardless of your relation to him or her. I don’t know about you, but I know I have a tendency to feel like I own the person just because we’re friends, or because I like the person. It’s like their world should revolve around me, because my world can easily revolve around them — it’s just fair, right? But the truth is, we never own anyone, and there’s always something we don’t know about the other person even if we feel like we know them, like we’ve figured them out. We may be important to the other person, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think other people are also important, or that other people think the world of them like you do. The best thing we can do for the people that mean a lot to us is to love them and accept them and forgive them and be content at the fact that they will always surprise us. It may not always be in a good way, but it was what made Miles like, love and forgive Alaska for in the end.
This isn’t my favorite, but I liked Looking for Alaska. It’s left me hopeful and smiling and thinking of things that I have never really thought about, or at least, never really bothered to think about. I am definitely going to read the rest of John Green’s novels.
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 74 out of 100 for 2010
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle store
Cover & Blurb: Goodreads