Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: Contemporary, (Young-Adult)
Published by: Speak
First Published: March 3rd 2005
Source: Personal Purchase
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François 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.
After. Nothing is ever the same.
Nerdy, not-very-social 16 year-old Miles Halter decides to go to a boarding school in pursue something more. In pursue of the Great Perhaps.
“So this guy,” I said, standing in the doorway of the living room. “François Rabelais. He was this 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.”
At the Culver Creek, the boarding school, Mile’s is introduced to a whole new life: friends, love, loyalty, booze, and cigarettes. He learns and does so many foreign things to him all while searching for this Great Perhaps. His life will never be the same.
Going into Looking for Alaska, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I know there are a lot of mixed reviews of this book but I personally loved it. It’s a great coming of age story that deals with heart ache, guilt, and finding it in one’s self to forgive and let go.
It’s kinda hard to write this review without spoilers, so I apologies for the ambiguity in advance. (It’s best to just go into this book blind.)
The story is devided by the Before and the After of the pivotal point in the story. Before the actual writing of the novel there’s a grayish page with a single word on it: Before. So going into the story the reader knows something is going to happen. I was expecting something to happen. And yet when It did happen it hit me between the eyes. Which I believe is actually very befitting. (Again with the ambiguity.)
The Before part of this book is filled with a lot of mundane activities (studying for tests, friends hanging out, a little rebelling) with little hints building up to the After part. There are so many themes/symbols I would love to discuss (and maybe I will in a future spoilery discussion post) but for now I will mention one thing: the Labyrinth.
Miles (aka Pudge) has a fetish over the last words of dead people. Alaska introduces him to the last words of Simon Bolivar: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”. This Labyrinth and the desperate question plays a huge part in the story (particularly in the After part). Miles is left contemplating the complexity of the Labyrinth and the answer of the question. It haunts him. My favourite part of the story would have to be Mile’s response to the question.
What I love about this book is that it got me thinking. Mile’s teacher, the Old Man, gives him a lot of things to turn over in his mind and we as readers get to see his chain of thoughts, which in turn gets us thinking.
On the Characters:
What I love about the characters is that they are unapologetically flawed. Not one of them is perfect nor are they portrayed to be, which makes them feel real.
Miles isn’t the leader of the group, that would be the short and stocky Colonel (Chip). The Colonel comes from poor roots and has a rich mind, especially for geography. He has a certain charisma that leads the group into mischief (often alongside Alaska).
Miles is the follower of the group which can be kind of annoying at times. He does whatever the Colonel or Alaska says. He’s also not a very reliable narrator when it come to Alaska. He allows his emotions at times fog his mind. At times he’ll romanticized her and at other times he’ll say she’s impulsive or a bitch.
Alaska is the mystery of the story and remains so to the characters and to the readers, with her cryptic speech and sly smile. She also provides the drama and tries to suffocate her demons with cigarettes and alcohol.
Takumi, although not as prominent as the previously mentioned characters, doesn’t fade into the background like Lara (another character that, well, fades into the background). You learn just a little more of Takumi at the end of a novel.
What I like is that you don’t have to love the characters to enjoy the story.
On the Rating:
The only thing I didn’t like is that the pursuit to the answers of the How?Why?When?Where?What? in the second part of the story (the ambiguity is for your own good) was stretched a little too much for my liking. I was going to knock off half a star for that because it does take up a good portion of the second half of the book, but… the last few pages got me so I left the half star.
Quotes from the Book:
- “Imaging the future is a kind of nostalgia.”
- “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape 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.”
- “We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.”
- “At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze.”