Saturday, November 3, 2012

Seeking a Great Perhaps: A Review of John Green's Looking for Alaska

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Edition: Paperback (Speak, 2005)
Pages: 221
How I Came by This Book: Beth, one of the students who works at my library, knew that I was looking for books to read for my blog last year. She handed this to me in November along with a few other books (that I didn't end up reading).

About the Author: John Green's favorite last words are those of Oscar Wilde. Dying in a garishly decorated hotel room, Wilde turned to a friend and said, "Either this wallpaper goes--or I do." He is a New York Times best-selling author who has received numerous awards, including both the Printz Medal and a Printz Medal and a Printz Honor. John is also the co-creator [with his brother, Hank] of the popular video blog Brotherhood 2.0, which has been watched more than 80 million times by Nerdfighter fans all over the globe. John Green lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Synopsis: 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.

Review: The only other taste I've had of John Green was the co-written (with David Levithan) Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved that book and, although I didn't know which bits of the book were written by which author, I was anxious to read this when Beth pushed into into my hands last year because I was curious as to what his writing was like on his own. Looking for Alaska is an absolute gem of a novel, one that tickles your funny bone at the same time that it hits you in the gut.

Pudge, Alaska, and the other students at Culver Creek are teens looking to find themselves within the confines of a boarding school. Much like Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Pudge is a disaffected young man, one who loses himself within famous last words as he pines for something better than life. Unlike Holden, however, Pudge eventually finds that life holds much more than just boredom and little annoyances. It holds joy and love, pain and sorrow. He's also a lot more likeable.

The structure of the novel is interesting. The first part of the book is a countdown to an event that will change everything for Pudge and his friends. The second half is akin to tally marks on a prison wall, counting the days since that event. The novel builds up, explodes, and then moves into a satisfying, albeit sad, ending. The structure of the first half of the novel builds up the tension, while that of the last half helps in the healing process...for both the characters and the reader.

Through all of their ups and downs, Green's characters are realistic, funny, and sympathetic. It's fun to watch them develop and touching to see how they deal with what life throws at them. Although they allow themselves to give into the out-of-control desires and pressures of teen life in order to try to seem mature, in the end they are revealed for what they are: young kids who are unprepared for the real world but who are trying their damnedest to pretend that they are.

Looking for Alaska was featured during this year's Banned Book Week because it was "challenged as required reading for Knox County, Tenn. High Schools' Honors and as Advanced Placement outside readings for English II (2012) because of 'inappropriate language.'" It was also banned in Tennessee for being "pornographic." While some people might see this book as being too "mature" for their children, I see it as a window into teen life. I was a teenager once. We swore. We had sex. Some of us smoked or drank. It's a time of exploration for a lot of us and this exploration of what Pudge and his friends think the "adult world" is stands in stark contrast to what they find out the "adult world" is really like. I think that Green's ability to juxtapose teenage naivete with harsh reality is wonderful.

If you haven't yet, go read this novel. I'm giving Looking for Alaska five out of five Gabriels.


1 comment:

  1. I read this book when I was about 15 because a girl I knew was going through some issues and said this book saved her life. After reading it I thought she was a basket case :3 But I see where she was coming from now. Reread it after reading your post.