Looking For Alaska by John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Summary: Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “The Great Perhaps” (Francois Rabelais, poet) even more. 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.
So I’ve decided for my first post, I’m not going to do a standard review of a book. I do want to discuss Looking for Alaska. But I would also like to talk about John Green, how I got into reading YA fiction after I was already a legal adult, and what it means to me.
From the summary, I would not expect this to be a good book. I do not like books about dumb kids who do dumb things and fall in love in dumb ways. I don’t like to read about things that could just as easily have happened to me – I want to read about people who I would love to be like having crazy adventures that I can only dream of. Normally, this leads me straight into fantasy and supernatural stories that couldn’t possibly exist, so it was surprising to me that I could fall so in love with this book about ordinary kids going to boarding school.
I think the first thing that really helps is that John’s characters are smart. They drink and smoke and curse, but they are just so smart. Even though I am older than 16, I can relate on an intellectual level (generally they surpass me…). They read and they’re aware of the world and that there are bigger things than who kissed who (though that is certainly important to them as well). John’s narrative is just a wonder to behold. The language makes it an easy read and captures the voices of his characters so perfectly. It draws you in and makes you feel what they are feeling to create an emotional ride that becomes very real.
In Looking for Alaska, all I can think is how damn cool it would be to be like Alaska. To be that girl that everyone is in love with. That girl who drives way too fast, smokes too many cigarettes, comes up with the craziest schemes, fearlessly faces punishment for misdeeds, and commands the attention of everyone. If Alaska tells you that you’re going out to the soccer field in the middle of the night to drink wine and read Vonnegut, that’s what you’re going to do. No one can say no to her. She has real power and I can only imagine the exhilaration of it.
As the book goes on of course, we realize that Alaska is not so perfect. Her mood can swing at the drop of a hat and she herself admits that she is a “deeply unhappy person.” Yet even when she is at her worst, the crying, moody bitch she can be, Pudge still loves her and holds out for “his” Alaska to return. That is something to be envied – to be so desired that even a teenage boy can look beyond those bad times and love you so much anyway.
The book is more than just that, of course. It touches upon what John explores more in depth in Paper Towns: that you can’t really and truly know someone else, and that it is so easy to create an ideal that is not reality. And then the big question in Alaska– “How will we ever escape this labyrinth?” Clearly it wants us to think about love and loss, about death, and about what keeps us alive and fighting even when it may seem hopeless. I certainly don’t have an answer and honestly I’m not big into overthinking the main theme of any book, but it’s a good point. You have to find your own way to keep fighting through the labyrinth that is life.
Looking for Alaska is really the first Young Adult book I ever read. Previously, I’d pretty much only read Harry Potter (over and over and over again). In high school, I mostly read classic books. I knew John from YouTube before I even knew he was a writer. He mentioned Looking for Alaska in one of his videos and held up the book, which I then realized was sitting on Cassie-wa’s bookshelf. I read it and I loved it.
Perhaps my brain has just regressed or something now that I’m not in school anymore, but I love YA. It is easy to read, but it’s also colorful and interesting and full of so much imagination. It has pulled me in and I cannot stop. John Green is special for introducing me to the genre and also for being one of the incredibly few authors to keep my interest and snag my passion without any magic or demons.
John is also great at telling you how it’s okay to love things like YA novels. Yes, I’m a nerd and yes, there is always pressure not to be a nerd. People don’t understand it most of the time because they’re too busy watching reality TV and picking out slutty outfits to wear to the club. But it’s okay. It’s me and I love it anyway.
Probably my favorite quote from John is from his video on July 19, 2009:
“Saying ‘I notice you’re a nerd’ is like saying, ‘Hey, I notice that you’d rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you’d rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?'” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMweXVWB918
As nerds we are allowed to love things. We don’t have to say “that purse is okay…” or “I like that band’s early stuff.” We can love it. I can love Looking for Alaska and the things that John has to say to me. And I do.