title: Looking for Alaska
author: John Green
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, teen issues, good writing, nerdy characters, and high school coming-of-age stories. Lovers of stories that go beyond the story.
My Ratings Explained
After. Nothing is ever the same.
the basicsMy love of John Green is no secret. I fell for his writing in The Fault in Our Stars, which might be one of my favorite young adult books of all time, and confirmed my first suspicions of his greatness with An Abundance of Katherines. Looking for Alaska was Green's debut. It has all the bittersweetness of Stars and the over-the-top humor of Katherines, with a depth and authenticity of emotion that made it impossible for me to put down. The story was all it's own. Miles/Pudge is a quirky nerd with dreams of a great unknown and real, devastating flaws. That's what really made this book stick for me. Like Perks of Being a Wallflower, it explores the way mistakes can shape us, and the way we can shape ourselves. I was stunned by it. Honestly, I think it should be on every high school reading list. It was a hard read in the best way possible. I nearly cried reading it--but I couldn't stop. There are some gimmicks, some flaws, but all in all, it's a remarkable story.
plot . 4/5Some of it was expected, based on Green's other novels. The insta-friends with quirky names and bizarre interests. The ManicPixieDreamGirl (ala Tom Leveen et al.). The over-the-top adventures that you're never going to have at your high school. Or maybe you will. Green's book have an air of whimsy to them. It's crazy to think that all the things that happened in this book could have happened at your average high school, at least not without certain expulsion. What Green does well is making it feel real anyway. He takes all the craziest adventures you and your friends have ever had and spins them into a great story. I know the plot is a little far-fetched, but I could still see myself in parts of it. And despite being a bit episodic, it's a fast-paced read that strings you along towards something you can feel building. The twist was simultaneously expected and totally shocking, and the amount of attention given to the aftermath was a really different and cool approach.
concept . 4/5A dozen books, maybe a hundred, have been written about teens coming of age, finding themselves, going through tough times. Green just does it better. I thought the idea of exploring someone from the outside was a clever way to go. I can't say much without totally ruining the twist, but suffice to say, the second part of the book takes it from being your average high school adventure story to something that makes you think a lot about your own life, in the least cliched way possible. It takes a good hard look at those moments that could go one way or the other, and the what-ifs after it tips. It's just a solid concept overall. What I felt was lacking were some of the half-explored issues, like the rich-poor balance at school and the war with the Weekend Warriors. Green tried to do a lot in this book; there were a few bits I wanted more of by the end.
characters . 5/5Miles is one of those characters that I both loved and wanted to strangle. He's an adorable, quirky nerd, but he's also kind of callous and self-centered in the way that teenagers (myself at that age included) can be. Which means that he's very real despite his over-the-top quirks, like memorizing Famous Last Words. You get a similar feel from the rest of the cast. They're part caricature, but they all feel very authentic anyway. The Colonel is pretty delightful. Alaska was another love-hate character. She waxed a little too ManicPixie for me at times, which made me fear for how the book would turn, but through the book's twist, she became something much more. I wish Lara and Takumi had gotten more of a presence. And they smoke. A lot.
style . 5/5The style fits the characters and plot perfectly. It too is a bit over the top, but also remarkably insightful and at times, so beautiful that I had to reread lines. It's not quite as polished as Fault in Our Stars, but I can forgive it, being an earlier work. You can still see all the very Green-ish elements here. The constant repetition of and elaboration on key phrases and themes. The literary allusions. The snappy dialogue and hysterical, why-didn't-I-think-of-that wit. The story is essential, but the style turns it from a good story into a great one.
mechanics . 5/5The chapters titles are insanely clever. You start around 174 days before. Let's call it that, anyway. So we have that chapter. "174 days before." And then we start counting down. And by the time I got to "the day before", I'd sort of forgotten about the titles. They were just there. And then the big black page printed with "After" showed up, and it hit me all at once. It was one of the cleverest things in that it foreshadowed the twist from the first page, and was there so sneakily that when you got there, you knew what was going to happen, but you didn't even realize you were supposed to be dreading it. I sort of felt like Miles in that way. In retrospect, it was obvious. At the time, it was devastating.
take home messageLooking for Alaska is a whimsically witty take on life, love, and tragedy, at the same time thrilling and thought-provoking.
Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.