This week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.
From my original review: “Finally, Looking For Alaska showed up at the school library, and was immediately snapped up by me. It’s the story of Miles Halter shows up at a boarding school in Alabama to seek what Rabelais called ‘the Great Perhaps’. You see, he’s fascinated with last words; he memorizes them. At the Culver Creek, he meets Alaska Young, a crazy and attractive girl, as well as some other very strange people. They do some pretty odd things.
That’s John Green for you. I liked this one a bit better than An Abundance of Katherines, but I still think Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars were both much better books; more thoughtful, though obviously this one attempts to be. Looking for Alaska is kind of funny, though, and certainly I did want to know what would happen. Also the ‘x number of days before’ was very dramatic. It’s a very John Greenish book, if you know what I mean. There’s a lot of smoking and drinking.
Alaska is seriously disturbed. All of them are, actually. I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn’t get into the first half of the book, “the before” Somehow, it wasn’t really engaging or gripping or any of those things that make you love a book. But then the big thing happened. And then the book was amazing. It feels like all of the other stuff is just a build-up to what happens after. It’s pretty easy to guess, but without spoiling anything, Miles is kind of grappling with his grief and also his overwhelming feeling of guilt. And there are some really nice thoughts and there is some really great writing here. The first half was a bit boring, but the second made up for it a lot. Stick with this one. And yes, the last three pages are amazing.”
For whatever reason, I liked Looking For Alaska a lot more the second time around. I was pulled into the story and I just kept reading. Although John Green’s plot-lines tend to be generic (nerdy/quirky/outsider boy named Miles/Colin/Quentin is fascinated by an unattainable girl named Alaska/Katherine/Lindsay/Margo), I really like that plot-line, and each of John Green’s first three books explores different facets of it. And TFiOS is different.
While all the smoking and drinking that occurs in the book does make me a little uneasy, I think it’s interesting to read about teenagers who both do all sorts of “forbidden” things and also talk about literature, last words, and the Great Perhaps. The characters are all contradictions; they’re smart people, but they do really stupid things sometimes just for the heck of it.
The two main criticisms of Looking For Alaska and John Green’s books in general is that the writing is pretentious and the characters are unrealistic for their age in terms of how they speak and what they do. I would agree with both of those statements for the most part, but they’re not necessarily bad things. I don’t find John Green’s writing all that pretentious, but I do think that the way the characters talk is not how most teenager (even intellectual ones) talk. That doesn’t really take away from my enjoying his books; it’s just something that I notice. I would also definitely agree that the characters in this novel (especially Alaska) are over the top, but Miles just sees her that way. Most of his books, but Paper Towns especially, deal in some way or other with how we see people as opposed to who they actually are. In Paper Towns, all the characters see a different version of Margo; Miles also has his own vision of who Alaska is. She’s a loud, brash, funny, smart, and attractive person.
I find it funny that this one was banned from the curriculum at several schools. There is a very physical scene, but it contrasts sharply with the following scene which is not physical at all but much more rewarding; Miles feels a much deeper connection there.
I didn’t find the first section to be boring as I did when I first read the book. I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters and reading about their antics. Of course, things do get much more exciting (and heartbreaking) in the “after” sections, which I’m not going to reveal anything about. It is really compelling though.
Looking For Alaska is still not my favorite of John Green’s novels, but it has definitely approved in my estimation of it. It’s an excellent, excellent book which I would highly recommend. My love for it increased as I read. I think it’s definitely one of John Green’s more meaningful novels, and it is one of my favorite books.