John Green’s first book? I believe that.
Miles Halter has had a boring life. No friends, save his parents, and a knack for memorizing the last words of famous people, he transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School in hopes of finding the “Great Perhaps”.
At the Creek, Miles is renamed “Pudge”, discovers the wonder that is bufriedo, and makes new friends: Chip, aka “the Colonel”; Takumi, an international student; and Alaska Young, a crazy, spontaneous, bookworm…who Pudge is in love with.
I am not happy with this book. In many ways, I think it kind of sucked. The plot effectively splits itself into two: before and after a certain spoilerific event. In my head, it’s split into trashy slice of life and crappy mystery.
The “before” or “trashy slice of life” section is just a bunch of teenagers mucking around. They drink, they smoke, they prank, they have sex, and they try not to get caught. It was boring and cheesy and awkward, and I didn’t really see a point. The “after” or “crappy mystery” was so easy to solve after the guys make a certain phone call. It was almost painful to wait for them to figure it out.
I dislike most of the characters in this book. For Takumi and Lisa, it’s because the most characterization they got was their ethnicity. What probably ruined this book for me was Alaska, since she was consistently inconsistent. She’s brash and brazen, and yet still stereotypical feminist smarty pants. I do like Pudge and the Colonel, though. Pudge was annoying, true, but he was the kind of annoying you expect from a love sick teenager who doesnt know anything about the real world. The Colonel, however, is my favourite character, because he was the only one who was the right kind of quirky for me. He was angry and nerdy and caring and messed up.
The writing…I’m not going to say it was bad. It succeeded when it wanted to be funny or upsetting, but when it wanted to be meaningful? Besides one character…it felt really forced. Pudge’s essay at the end is a prime example of this. The writing also seemed to force the plot along. Need a backstory to Alaska? Let’s put it in a drinking game!
And I can tell Green borrowed ideas here for his future novels. Pudge’s essay? Gus’ letter. Alaska? Margo. Colonel’s mom? Hazel’s Mom. I feel like Looking for Alaska was a rough draft for my favourite Green book, Paper Towns.
And yet with all these flaws, it was difficult for me to put the book down. Mostly, I think, it was because I was waiting for something to happen. But when you enter the “after” part of the book, the decription of grief is so…striking, I wanted to find out about the play out and recovery. I liked the parallels and the search for closure and the arguing due to selfishness. I almost wish that part were longer, since it was well written.
But will I read it again? Unlikely.
Recommendation: Maybe. If you are a huge fan of John Green, you can start with Looking for Alaska and go chronologically by publication to see the improvement in his novel writing.
What to read next: For a story about grief I suggest A Walk To Remember by Nicholas Sparks, or Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohaka. A similar novel would be Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.