Thursday, December 23, 2010

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Published: March 3, 2005 by Puffin
(221 pages, paperback)
Summary: Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave "the Great Perhaps" even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy 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. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then . . . 
After. Nothing is ever the same.
My thoughts: Judging from the back of this book, and from the cover, it seems like this book will be pretty serious and heavy. Well, unless you've read other Green titles, then you probably know how humorous and light his novels can be. That being said, I was a little weary of this novel; I wasn't positive this book would meet the high expectations I've come to set before starting any Green novel. But Looking for Alaska was hilarious and tear-jerking and thought-provoking. Honestly, I don't think I could ever ask anything more of any novel, ever. The book starts out with a bit of a dreary, dragging beginning, where Miles is basically lonely and is going off to boarding school to seek "the Great Perhaps"--and maybe even get some real friends along the way. What Miles gets is Alaska Young, a complicated to say the least girl who is simultaneously naive and a genius. Alaska quickly drags Miles--deemed "Pudge" by the Colonel (more on him later) for 'irony'--into her complex, vortex of a life and Miles' is changed--and when everything changes for him again, he's left choking on the dust that is and was Alaska Young.
For the first 150 pages of Looking for Alaska, the characters are introduced and I laughed several times so hard a I cried. From the--self-proclaimed--Colonel, to the Asian rapper Takumi, to the quiet and short i-impaired Lara, every character had a personality unique and detailed in a way that made me bond with them despite sharing almost nothing in common with them. Green weaves a background story for each character, that while not really revealed, has undoubtedly made them completely unique from other characters, and also made them extremely memorable. I don't know that I'll ever hear rap music the same after Takumi's surprisingly good--and funny--skills with rapping. Or that I'll ever think of a roomful of books and wine without thinking of Alaska. But the secondary characters didn't feel at all like secondary characters throughout the book, and they each had a very crucial part in Pudge--and ultimately Alaska's--life and transformation. 
Alaska Young was too many words to list; she was amazingly intelligent and completely clueless when it came to her friends. She was sweet, occasionally, and bitchy, occasionally. I loved and hated Alaska for the whole book, and I saw through the eyes of Pudge instantly. His conflicting feelings towards this 'hurricane' of a girl made sense in a nonsensical story line. Even though the first half of this novel is quick, to-the-point, and light, the second half is darker and meaningful.
I just wanted to quickly add how awesome I thought the whole last-words obsession Pudge has. I hadn't really truly thought about it before, but a person's last words are there last testament, and at the end of Looking for Alaska, Pudge's last words (in the book) are just as quote-worthy and amazing as any other famous last words can be.
Normally I would elaborate on the writing style Green uses. But really, Pudge's narrative felt so real, so descriptive, that it was like I was in the characters' lives, and no matter what was going on, it was like the words melted into the pages and I was watching the story, not the words.
I love, love, loved the pranking in this novel, too. I have to admit I'm a bit of a prank-er myself and it was great to see some of high school's fun parts included. It would be amazing to live at Culver Creek, and I admit to being a bit jealous of their quirky nicknames, close-knit circle of friends, and hilarious and shockingly understanding principal, the Eagle. I adored how the Colonel acted and everything about their friendship and how the relate to one another. While the brief and clumsy romance between Lara and Pudge isn't exactly fluffy (or at all romantic) it was funny and cute in its own special way. Kind of like everything that happens in this novel. I could take hours to describe (in detail) how funny, serious, or honest some of the encounters were, but I'll just say that Green doesn't miss a beat and his smart writing style makes even slightly slow parts seem to fly by.
Green's writing for the latter half of Looking for Alaska is pure genius in my opinion. I was surprised by how deep and philosophical the book got, and it maintained its mostly humourous air even after. Pudge's life is yet again turned on its head, and his questions, doubts, and revelations were all realistic and emotional. It's the kind of novel that stays with you long minutes, and even hours, after you've closed the cover for the final time. Also, there were just so many great quotes and moments that I was countlessly re-telling my friends and my family about different parts of the book. And really, that's what the difference was between this novel being good and great: Looking for Alaska made me not only feel, but it made me think. And not a lot of YA novels can do this; especially not with the same flair Green does.
Cover: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Overall Rating: 5 stars


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