Looking for Alaska by John Green
Author: John Green Website|Twitter
Published: 3 July 2006 (HarperCollins Children's Books)
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Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
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 follows Miles who is starting at a new boarding school in a completely different part of the country. There he meets several people, including the intriguing Alaska Young who completely captures his attention.
The first John Green book I read was The Fault in Our Stars, which was a book I absolutely adored. Since then, I've been kind of disappointed with Green's other novels (Paper Towns/An Abundance of Katherines). I think I set the standard pretty high by reading TFiOS first, but I'd heard really good things about Looking for Alaska so I've been excited to read it. And it didn't disappoint.
I've always loved John Green's characters but sometimes I've struggled to connect with them. That definitely wasn't the case with this book. They felt completely real to me. I was immediately drawn to Miles. I loved his habit of memorising famous people's last words, reading biographies and the fact he's a bit of an outcast before moving schools. His voice throughout the story just phrased everything so accurately that I could completely relate to the world around him.
His new friends at Culver Creek, the boarding school he moves to, are a pretty awesome bunch too. I loved his roommate Chip - nicknamed "The Colonel" - who introduces him to booze, cigarettes and Alaska Young. He really made me laugh to with his habit of pulling pranks. Then there was Alaska herself who was completely captivating. I can see why Miles is so drawn to her! She's rebellious and a bit mysterious, plus a total feminist which I thought was really interesting. She'd come out with these huge statements about women and I'd be there completely agreeing with her.
I've mentioned the booze and cigarettes already and I think one of my favourite things about Looking for Alaska was the way it didn't shy away from things like that. It dealt with things like teenagers hiding booze in their rooms and sneaking out to smoke in a very matter of fact way which I really admired, because teens do those things, and I don't think it's an accurate portrayal of school life if you gloss over them. It also tackled sex in an equally brilliant, head on way. I liked how we saw Miles explore his relationships with the girls around him and how it wasn't all wishy-washy love story, but at the same time he had a real understanding of what he wanted and what things meant to him. He's a pretty caring person.
I also loved how setting it in a boarding school gave a great insight into school politics. There's the social hierarchy and how the weekly boarders face off against the full time boarders. It was interesting seeing how the kids manipulated the adults around them to get away with things. I also liked the exploration of class and the difference between the scholarship kids and the rich kids.
The book is written with the "chapters" titled "x many days before" so you know pretty early on that the whole story is leading up to something. Early on I wasn't thinking too much about what the event was, but as the number of days ticked down I was on edge, waiting for that reveal and trying to figure out just what it was. And I totally didn't see it coming, so when it all kicked off and we reached the part of the book title "after" I was just in a complete state of shock. It was so brilliantly done and left me a total wreck for the remainder of the story.
I've always admired John Green's poetic writing style and in Looking for Alaska I was able to really connect with the writing as well as the characters. In the story Miles is studying world religion where they are asked to look at life and death and what happens afterwards as well as how people live for now and focus on the present. I thought those lessons linked in so well with the events in the story and the themes running through it. It was one of those books that makes you think without being pretentious. I was just so captivated by some of the thoughts the characters had and the things they came out with.
It's rarely I say a book is perfect but for me, Looking for Alaska was pretty much the perfect book. I just want to re-read it over again because I'm sure there are some wonderful things about it that I've missed. I think books like this are so hard to review because I can't really express how I feel about it accurately enough in words! This is definitely right up there with The Fault in Our Stars, though, that's for sure.
What to read next: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Books like this: Paper Towns by John Green, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King