Looking for Alaska by John Green
Digital Audiobook narrated by Jeff Woodman
Published by Speak on December 28, 2006
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 221 pages or 7 hours, 11 minutes
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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.
John Green fans traditionally mark Looking for Alaska as their favorite of his books.
I’m sorry, folks, I just can’t concur. Quite the contrary, Looking For Alaska is my least favorite of his books. Up until Day Zero, I can’t stand the book. Miles is such a prat, so selfish and unlikable. The only thing that gets me through the first 60% of this novel are the famous last words, which I do find fascinating. While reading any of his novels, you are confronted and fascinated by John Green’s quirky intelligence, and I love that in his books, but it’s not enough for me to fall in love with this one.
Looking for Alaska was John Green’s debut. I started reading him after his third book, Paper Towns. Books one and three have similar themes of “boy falls in love, girl disappears” but the endings are very different. Paper Towns carried over some of the road trip adventuring that I loved in An Abundance of Katherines. Looking for Alaska? It’s dark and frustrating.
Themes in this novel surround the grieving processes, suicide, depression, young adult sexuality, and growth. It’s deep, evokes self-reflection, and kicks you in the gut. Hard. With steel-toed boots. It has characters a YA audience can relate to. I even read it when I was 18 for the first time, and I didn’t like it then. So what’s my problem?
It’s Miles. I can’t stand Miles.
Miles Halter is such a selfish tool. In 2006, this character was a little less common, but in today’s YA we see it a lot and it rubs me the wrong way. Miles “Pudge” Halter is a smart kid that has no friends, but whatever. He transfers to a prestigious private high school to “start over” in his junior year. He follows his new roommate around like a puppy dog, immediately picks up drinking and smoking because his new group of friends are doing it, and falls in love with a girl who has a boyfriend. There are pranks, he gets a blowjob from this sweet Romanian girl whose nationality he can never remember, and then something terrible happens.
So, I mean, the beginning? Your basic high school YA novel.
Then Shit Goes Down.
After The Event, all the characters change. Except Miles. Miles is still a selfish, sex-driven jerk. He takes everything so personally, attacks others in his grief, and tries to stop them in finding closure. The Colonel is great, and I even like Laura a bit afterwards, when we see a glimpse deeper into her. But seeing this whole thing through Miles’ eyes? I hate it. Because you know he’s seeing only what he wants to see. John Green has written him well – he’s not a particularly wonderful person, but his character is always true. I just want to see the story from someone else’s point of view.
The philosophical discussions in this book are good, although (thanks to Miles limited interest) they always seem to stop short. There are moments I don’t love, the way the character all feel so cookie-cutter to the tropes we’ve seen before… but John Green’s writing has grown from his early novels. Those who loved Looking For Alaska may be less and less keen on his newer books (except perhaps out of loyalty). For myself? I enjoy reading his stories and falling into better developed, more realistic characters.
And to appreciate that, sometimes I need to go back and revisit the books I didn’t love.