July 21st, 2014

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

Book Review: Looking for Alaska - Sara du Jour

Though I read and liked The Fault in Our Stars, I wasn’t sure I was going to foray back into the world of John Green.

Having now read two of his books, it seems as though his style is to write about death and teenagers who aren’t quite teenagers. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Looking for Alaska, John Green’s award-winning first novel, begins on a note most anyone can relate to. Miles Halter, a teenaged boy and our protagonist, feels stuck in his stale, mundane life and decides to leave it all behind to attend Culver Creek boarding school, inspired by the phrase, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.

Due to our culture’s massive consumption of fiction through books, movies, and television shows – where so much drama and profundity happens in such a short amount of time – we’ve all thought our own lives boring and unexciting by comparison.

And so, Miles leaves sticky, hot Florida for stickier, hotter, unknown Alabama.

At boarding school, Miles meets and befriends a collection of characters who feel, to me, like the outlines of real people filled in with eccentricities and quirks.

In all my experience both as being a teenager myself, and meeting other teenagers, I have never, ever encountered people like these.

Miles himself obsessively collects the last words of famous people; another character owns so many books they cover all the walls and floors of her dorm room; and yet another character can name the capital city of any place on Earth.

How many people do you know like this? It would be unusual for one character to have such a definable eccentricity. But for every character?

I had similar feelings about Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. While thoroughly likable, his behaviour and way of speaking never quite felt fully human to me.

This is my only real “criticism” of John Green’s writing, however. If it’s a style you enjoy, then it’s no criticism at all. I’ve learned to treat his work as slightly verging on the genre of magical realism. Just like our world, but inextricably, not quite.

As part of this quirky gang, Miles sheds his former “good boy” behaviour for smoking, drinking, and pranks. He gets exactly what he was longing for: a life of excitement, surprises, new experiences, and finally, good friends.

Miles (nicknamed “Pudge”), begins to fall for the ever-enigmatic Alaska Young, a beautiful, brazen, self-destructive girl. At first I was concerned that Alaska as a character would serve only to be the manic pixie dream girl, but thankfully, as the novel progressed and we learned more about her, this didn’t turn out to be the case.

My book reviews are always spoiler-free, so I’m having to tiptoe carefully around a few things in order to protect your own reading experience.

To close up, it was an interesting, enjoyable story, though one I didn’t fall in love with right away. Unlike the Fault in Our Stars, this one was more of a slow burn, for me. All the characters, while surreally eccentric, are complex, honest, and compelling. And as seems to be his style, John Green tells a thoughtful, insightful, and tender story.

Have you read Looking for Alaska? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below. xx

Looking for Alaska, by John Green – My Rating: 3/5

– Sara

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