Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Pages: 221
Genre: YA, contemporary fiction
Series? No
Publisher: Speak (2005)
Rating: 5/6 – I loved it!

Synopsis from cover: 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” (Francois 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.

My Initial Thoughts/Rambling: I was really worried that after reading The Fault in Our Stars, all other John Green books would fall flat for me. The one hit wonder curse. Never fear! I loved Looking for Alaska almost as much as TFiOS – not quite on the same level, but just a half step below it. Possible Spoilers Ahead.

What did I think about the characters? What I love about John Green is that he treats teenagers like adults. It reminds me of this quote from Orson Scott Card in his forward for Ender’s Game:

Never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along – the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires.

Green acknowledges that teens are sometimes impulsive, and maybe lack a full view of consequences, but never minimizes the fact that we do look beyond our next romantic interest and actually care about the world and what happens in it and where we’re going and how we fit into everything. Yes, we’re stupid. We make dumb decisions – but it’s not a condition quarantined to ages 13-18. And the fact that Green highlights this is one of my favorite things about his characters.

Alaska was satisfyingly enigmatic – I could never pin her down. Just when I thought I got her, she threw another curve ball at me. It was like being whipped back and forth, and in that way I was taken right along with Pudge as he tried to make sense of it all. And Pudge was written in a solidly male voice, but I never felt like I didn’t understand what he was thinking or how he was seeing his circumstances. He was so unique too – just that one little quirk of his memorizing last words made him immediately memorable.

The same goes for the other characters too. Takumi with his fox hat and the ensuing shenanigans while he believed he was untouchable, Lara with her Romanian (don’t tell her that it’s Russian!) accent and inability to pronounce soft i vowels, and The Colonel with his mastermind pranks and memorization of capitals, countries, and population counts. They were all so distinct and developed that I fell in love with each and every one of them.

And the concept and plot? The concept was stunning. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since the synopsis doesn’t give a clear picture of the plot, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Whereas TFiOS focused on wanting to leave a legacy after death, LfA is about forgiveness after the death of a loved one. In this case, with Pudge and the Colonel allowing Alaska to drive drunk, the serious question of responsibility for someone’s life is brought up. We can hold on to the guilt and shame from a death, not even knowing if we were the direct cause of it, or if it was entirely out of our hands. Really, the message of this book is about recognizing that you can let the pain and uncertainty of death weigh you down and hold you back from living, or you can accept what happened, forgive others and yourself most of all, and carry on in life. As Pudge says:

Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be. . . . We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. . . . Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.

The plot, while not making a clear determination of what exactly happened at the end, was satisfactory. Usually I don’t like ambiguous endings, but this one worked for me. I think it’s because the focus wasn’t on what happened, but how it affected the characters.

What about the writing style? Witty and engaging, making me laugh at one point and then two pages later making me ponder life after death. Green blends hilarity with existential questions, and it’s a flawless mix. And, even though I know it’s been driven into the ground, I just love the hurricane quote. 

So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.

Anything else you’d like to add? Well now I’m feeling a lot more confident about reading Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines. I just have to decide which one I want to read first!

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7 thoughts on “Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

  1. I’ve had the same reservations about reading another John Green, after falling in love with TFiOS. I’ve picked this one up more than once and felt the same as you articulated above — the synopsis is kind of ambiguous, so I’ve never been willing to take a chance on it. I do know that John Green readers are die hard fans, so I should consider that. And your thorough review has helped convince me to put this one on my TBR list. Thanks!

  2. I have never read a John Green, though I really need to. Your review makes Looking For Alaska sound so good. The quotes you showed, how you described the characters and how John Green wrote them, and how intriguing the plot is. Wow. I REALLY NEED A JOHN GREEN BOOK NOW!

    Great review, Kayla!

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