Looking for Alaska – John Green

Posted 6 April, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 14 Comments

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Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Published: 2005; Pages: 221
Genre: Fiction (Young Adult)
Rating: 4/5

Brief Summary: Halfway through his high school career, Miles Halter decides to leave his Florida home to attend Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama. Miles, or Pudge as he eventually becomes known at the new school, goes in search of the Great Perhaps. Though friendless in Florida, he is taken in by his roommate The Colonel and his friends Takumi and Alaska. Alaska is every guys dream girl, especially Pudge’s, and the “before” and “after” set-up of the book highlights Pudge’s journey in discovering the Great Perhaps.

Reason I read Looking for Alaska: There has been so much buzz and blogger love for John Green and this book since I started blogging. I eventually found a used copy of the book and settled in for what I hoped would be a good reading-funk buster. Sure was.

My very rambling thoughts: After seeing so many damn raves about John Green, I couldn’t ignore him any longer. I was thrilled last year when I found Paper Towns in audio format from my library and loved listening to it while on my long-distance bike ride. Later I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson and enjoyed it but wasn’t quite blown away. I am glad to report, though, that Looking for Alaska proved to be a perfect tie-breaker as I really enjoyed reading this book.

What did I like about the book? Looking for Alaska felt really honest and real to me. I remember being in high school and college and spending hours discussing life and the world with those around me–much like the characters in the book–trying to figure out the big picture and even all of the little pieces that hold everything together. There is so much to discover and to learn, so many mistakes to be made, so many experiences to be had, and Looking for Alaska captures this youthful philosophizing and living so well.

For me that’s what the book is about. It’s not about the characters–who are real and flawed; it’s not about the plot–which had its funny and sad moments; it’s not about the before or the after–though it plays a huge part in the shape of the novel. All of those things are important and make the book what it is, but it’s a book about figuring out how to deal with the tough cards that are dealt during adolescence and there are no easy answers–or any answers at all. It’s about growing up and taking responsibility for feelings. It’s about discovery. It’s about the Great Perhaps.

A small minor quib: The students in the book are of high school age and I just can’t seem to reconcile their behavior with their age. Yes, I know that high schoolers swear, drink, smoke, and have sex, and perhaps because the book takes place at a boarding school the students seemed more college age than high school age. I wasn’t able to buy into the idea that they were 16 rather than 19. I know, not a big difference, but in my experiences it was a big difference. Part of me always feels weird about seeing these taboo things in a Young Adult novel. I know, I’m a prude.

Bottom Line: Obviously I really enjoyed the book. I didn’t love the book, but there were lots of things I did love. I loved Green’s writing style–at the same time straight forward and descriptive. I loved the characters and was happy when they were happy and sad when they were sad. I wanted to throw this book in the freezer and actually did put it down for several days at a time. I couldn’t imagine how it would end but was very satisfied with how everything wrapped up. It’s not one I’ll universally recommend but I do suggest you try a little John Green sometime. And this is an excellent place to start.

A few of my favorite parts:
(there were many to choose from and I did take some small liberties to prevent spoilers) 

” …I leaned in toward her, suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that we must kiss, that we ought to kiss right now on the dusty orange couch with its cigarette burns and its decades of collected dust. And I would have: I would have kept leaning toward her until it became necessary to tilt my face so as to miss her ski-slope snose, and I would have felt the shock of her so-soft lips. I would have. But then she snapped out of it” (54).

“I lit a cigarette and spit into the creek. ‘You can’t just make me different and then leave,’ I said out loud to her. ‘Beause I was fine before, Alaska. I was fine with just me and last words and school friends, and you can’t just make me different and then leave.’ For she had embodied the Great Perhaps–she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes, and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps” (172).

Someday no one will remember that she ever existed, I wrote in my notebook, and then, or that I did. Because memories fall apart, too. And then you’re left with nothing, left not even with a ghost but with its shadow. In the beginning, she had haunted me, haunted my dreams, but even now, just weeks later, she was slipping away, falling apart in my memory and everyone else’s, leaving again” (196).

So, I’m thinking maybe An Abundance of Katherines for the Readathon on Saturday?

Have you read John Green? What do you think?

I am an Amazon Associate and if you purchase Looking for Alaska or any other Amazon product through this review I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no additional cost to you. Thanks!

14 Responses to “Looking for Alaska – John Green”

  1. I wasn’t surprised by the smoking, swearing, sexing as you were (*sigh* it’s difficult to imagine, but teaching MIDDLE SCHOOL, I know of (and more than a few) students who do the above), but their convos struck me as being beyond their years. Like, the spoke how I wished my friends and I spoke in high school. Gilmore Girls? Dawson’s Creek?

    It didn’t really distract, but just made me yearn.

    And hows Baby Billy Sue? :P Still allowing you to participate in readathon.

  2. Oh no–will you disown me if I tell you that my friends and I definitely did all those things at age 16?

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Trish. This is one of those books that I just love to pieces. And you know, after listening to you talk about it, I really feel like going and picking it up again right now. :)

  3. I have never heard of the author before, but I really loved this review. I love how you captured what was in between the lines. It sounds like a novel that I might find myself relating to on the same level you did.

  4. I just posted about Paper Towns today and felt similarly about that one as you did this one. I read Looking for Alaska a long time ago, and I think the book are pretty comparable. In both, I loved the characters and their explorations and the real sense of humor that Green writes with. I agree with Christina’s comment that the dialog felt a little old to me, but not in a way that was bothersome. John Green = wonderful.

  5. I think I’ve become immune to YA books where the characters seem older than their ages! After all, on TV and in movies, they’re regularly played by 20-somethings, so I must just ignore it now. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, actually.

    This was my first John Green book and I really liked it – like you, I loved that it went between the lines of just the event and communicated in such a universal way.

    Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

  6. I still haven’t read any of Green’s work. When my son was in high school, kids did things that I did in college, so the book may not be that far off.

  7. *Christina – Not to say I didn’t push the boundaries when I was younger but not in the extreme way these kids did. I just saw them more as college age? BBS is good–kicking away. Hoping she’ll let me read on Saturday! ;)

    *Rae – It’s short–you should try it!

    *Debi – LOL! I wasn’t an angel but I was definitely always young for my age (probably since I’m the oldest). And you you know you’re one of the ones whose talked me into John Green!

    *Michelle – John Green writes fiction targeted to YA, but I really like his style. This is a great place to start.

    *Kim – Oooh, can’t wait to see what you thought of Paper Towns. I enjoyed listening so much that I bought a paper copy! I agree that there’s many points of comparison between these books. Is it a reoccuring thing with Green’s books?

    *Meghan – And maybe I’ve just forgotten how I was 15 years ago when I was their age? My brother is 14 and still just seems so naive, but maybe *I’m* the naive one!! Are there other Green books you’d recommend?

    *Bermuda – I agree-my sisters were doing things at 14 that I wouldn’t have considered doing until 20! But everyone’s different and especially with the boarding school, away from parents, aspect of the book?

    *Trisha – Haven’t read this one?? Oh, you must!!

  8. I actually went to a boarding school in Alabama for high school, and am a year or so apart from John Green in age, who ALSO went to a boarding school in AL for high school. Unfortunately, not the same school, but really how cool would that have been? Anyway, my point, when I got to ASMS I was SHOCKED at all the drugs and drinking there was going on. I was so sheltered and naive about drugs at my old school and had no idea how easy it was for kids to get them, and that was a long time ago. We weren’t allowed to visit boy’s rooms, or them in ours, but otherwise it pretty much felt right to me. Oh, and you couldn’t leave mine alone or in a car without a lengthy checkout process.

    Looking for Alaska was my favorite of Green’s, probably because it felt familiar to me.

  9. I have yet to read anything by Green, but, like you, I have seen raves about him everywhere. I’ll eventually get to it. I’m glad you enjoyed this one.

    Good luck with the Readathon. I’ll have to do my own some other time. They’re always during my busy tax time.

  10. *Lisa – I remember you saying that about the boarding school when you read this one. Actually, I think your review sticks in my head more than the others I’ve read because of that connection.

    *Kristi – Sometimes YA can seem a bit cliched or fluffy to me but John Green has a way of really making his characters real and easy to relate to.

    *Softdrink – Did my best cheering, but just couldn’t live up to your greatness. ;)