After constant bombardments of praise for John Green’s books, I’d decided to pick up Looking For Alaska after many recommendations and the shiny Pulitzer Prize stamp on the cover. Interested with the summary on Wikipedia, I raced to my nearest library and picked up the book. Within the first night of starting it, I could not put it down and I’ll be honest, it’s by far my favorite book written for young adults. Initially, this book is divided into two sections: Before and After. This introduces a suspension for the reader that makes you want to keep reading, in order to find out what happens “After”.
Miles “Pudge” Halter is a new student of Culver Creek Preparatory High School. His roommate Chip, or as he prefers to be called, “The Colonel” is just a normal kid who enjoys himself and everything else a teenager might. It isn’t until Pudge meets Colonel’s friend Alaska that he is instantly changed. Just like that, Miles falls in love with this mysterious girl who opens him to a new world. With a cast of quirky but muddled characters, John Green leads you through a harsh reality through the eyes of a mousy fifteen year old boy.
John Green is well known for his tear jerking novels, such as his latest The Fault In Our Stars. All of his books follow the main character, a teenager, and include romance. It is usually cheesy romance, but nonetheless not Twilight romance. John Green aims his books towards both boys and girls alike, so that everyone can read and enjoy his work. With this in mind, his very first books all have a male character as lead, until TFIOS. His style of writing varies between books but all of them are written with a feeling of sincerity and emotion that many young adult books lack. John Green has a strong respect for teenagers and with that he writes honestly from a teenager’s point of view. Having been a teenager, John Green knows exactly what we go through and can certainly relate. Looking For Alaska is an example of this.
The author also uses many themes and symbols to connect his characters and the reader and manage to create a relationship between them. In this book, John Green explores major themes such as teenage behavior (a humorous “sex” scene included), regret, depression and death. These are the themes that form a book filled with mixed feelings. I think John Green did a good job creating characters who dealt with their personal problems in different ways, but fell short making them come alive. Alaska was a girl who was very mysterious and as a reader, I never learned much about her. She was a bag of storms who could never make up her mind about how she felt and this bothered me in ways. I felt like she could have been stronger and could have caught my eye if John Green had made her reveal more about herself, instead of leaving us with this girl with no emotion. The way she dealt with her problems was a little distasteful and got boring for me. Every chapter, the characters are either drinking and smoking, or whining about themselves. This leads me to Pudge. Miles reminded me of Charlie from Perks Of Being A Wallflower. He is the new kid that falls into a group of rowdy kids and is changed for good because of the way they act and the girl in the group. Pudge was a character I wanted to like but I just couldn’t get my head around the way he acted. In the first couple chapters, he was ok and I could get along with him and his feelings, but as the book progressed, he went downhill. In the end, I wanted to stop the book a couple chapters early because of him. His friend The Colonel didn’t help much either. The remaining characters weren’t very present and didn’t add much to the plot.
Besides the character development failure, I felt like John Green made up for it with the setting and plot. I usually don’t like books that take place on a school setting but the author used the setting to his advantage and to keep the reader interested. The characters are pranksters and enjoy breaking the school rules, which provides humor to the book. I also enjoyed the lack of other students in the school so that you can really focus on the main characters and get to know them. Many school based young adult books introduce you to multiple groups of characters, when Looking For Alaska focuses on the small group of kids and really makes you feel like you are part of that group.
In the end, I finished the book with mixed feelings. Through the first read, I stopped and took a break because of the overwhelming feelings that came with it but I recovered a couple weeks later and finished. As the first book written by John Green and the first read myself, I definitely would recommend this book for anyone starting to read John Green for the first time. I followed this book with Paper Towns, also by John Green, and started a reading frenzy. I recommend taking your time reading through this book, which was hard for me because John Green absorbed me into his writing easily, but try to enjoy what is given to you. (¾ stars)
Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: 2005
Genre: Young Adult