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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'Looking for Alaska' by John Green


From the BLURB:

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green's arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

Miles Halter intends to follow the advice of Francois Rabelais’s famous last words and look for his very own ‘Great Perhaps’. So Miles is leaving no friends behind in Florida, and moving to Alabama to board at his father’s old school, Culver Creek.

But Miles’s boarding experience isn’t as exciting as he’d hoped it would be. There’s a lot of homework. The rich kid ‘Weekday Warriors’ try to drown him one night. And the cafeteria meat loaf is neither meaty, nor loafy.

Despite the various, niggling downsides to boarding life, Miles has found a few up-shots too. Like ‘The Colonel’ – Miles’s roommate who prefers his vodka with milk and his pranks spectacular. Takumi, whose alias ‘the fox’ cannot be caught. Lara, the Russian student with seductive innocence. And then there’s Alaska Young...

Alaska is beautiful and curvaceous. She has a rollercoaster of emotions and a black past hiding behind her rambunctious attitude and go-big-or-go-home life perspective. Alaska is Miles’s flesh and blood example of the Great Perhaps.

‘Looking for Alaska’ was the 2005 debut Young Adult novel by John Green.

I should have my ‘Young Adult Appreciation’ badge revoked. I ashamedly admit that I suck. Because until now, I have never read a John Green novel *cue pause for gasps of horror…*. John Green burst onto the YA scene in 2005 with this book that everyone warned me was beautiful and brilliant but also heartbreaking. Since then he has kind of dominated the YA scene in America – dare I say, John Green is to Americans what Melina Marchetta is to Australians?

I’ve got to admit – for the first half of ‘Looking for Alaska’ I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The story follows Miles Halter to Culver Creek. He’s a lovely young man, albeit totally geeky. He loves and memorizes famous last words; he has no friends and genuinely enjoys his parents company. He’s also very self-motivated, thus he decides to kick himself out of Florida and attend boarding school in Alabama in a bid to discover his very own version of Rabelais’s ‘Great Perhaps’.

For she had embodied the Great Perhaps--she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes, and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps.


The first half of the book is entertaining, in a harmless sort of way. We follow Miles as he makes his first real friends; with his roommate ‘The Colonel’, Japanese Takumi, Russian Lara and the enigma that is Alaska Young. We read their hijinks as they battle Weekday Warriors – those ‘boarders’ who live in mansions close by and go home on the weekends, all of them looking down their noses at the real, permanent boarders. And we read Miles fall deeper and deeper in love with Alaska … she has a boyfriend called Jake, a slight drinking problem and enough charisma to fill the Grand Canyon. Miles is smitten, and as a reader it’s easy to know why. Alaska is pedal-to-the-metal glorious insanity. She has her very own floor to ceiling library in her dorm room and a take no prisoners approach to life. She is wondrous and enchanting… even if there is a flipside to her giddiness.

Like I said, the first half of the novel is enjoyable, but had me scratching my head. Where is all this ‘heartbreak’ I was warned about? Where is the deep exploration of Miles’s ‘Great Perhaps’. The only hint of ominous comings is the countdown chapter clocks… an unknowing timer separating ‘days before’ a mysterious event.

And then it happens.

Oh, there’s that heartache I was warned about.


I know so many last words, but I will never know hers.


John Green’s novel is a sublime exploration of grief. And part of the brilliance is in Green exploring the calmer waters before the swell that takes Miles (and readers) under. Green lulls his readers into a false sense of security, and it’s not until you reach that great divide of ‘before’ and ‘after’ that he really sets into his writing groove and pulls readers under, letting us experience the raw brutality of grief along with Miles, The Colonel and Takumi.

‘Looking for Alaska’ reminded me a little of Jeffrey Eugenides’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’, as both explore the fallout of senseless death and lost love through the eyes of teenage boys who were helpless to stop the inevitable.

Part of the reason I connected with this book was simply because John Green doesn’t talk down to his readers. He lays it all out on the line – hurt and anger, guilt and ‘what could have been?’ Green writes tough, and I came to love that about him – especially when I think back to how gently he handled readers in the beginning of the book, only to pull the rug out from under us and give a swift kick to the guts. Sublime, if painful.

I get it now, I really do. John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ is to naughties readers what Stephen Chbosky’s ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ was to young readers in the 90’s. This is not an easy book to read – there are unanswered questions and no neat bows tying up the plot by book’s end. John Green’s novel is perfection on the precipice.

5/5

4 comments:

  1. I love John Green. He's the b-e-s-t best. Are you excited for TFIOS?

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  2. @ Sara - YES! I saw the youtube clip of him reading the first chapter of 'The Fault in Our Stars' and it definitely got me excited! I think it may well be the most anticipated YA novel of 2012!

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  3. Love John Green, he is funny and has the ability to make you cry and I cannot wait to get my hands on his new book Great review!

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  4. I think the writer is really good and have the talent to entertain readers.

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