Looking for Alaska
John Green
Dutton Books, 2005.

Looking for Alaska is John Green's first novel, a young adult coming-of-age story, although not for very young adults; it has a tendency to glorify drinking, smoking, sex, and reading. It is very much in the same style as his latter works, although somewhat more dramatic.

It is the story of Miles Halter, a young nerd who enjoys reading and quoting famous (and not-so-famous) last words. And not really a lot else. Approaching his Junior year of high school, he finds himself the stereotypical geeky loser,with no friends and no prospects for anything exciting ever happening in his life. His solution to this is to go to a private boarding school for smart kids. He's just that kind of person. But it turns out that this was a good choice, as Culver Creek Preparatory School turns out to have a some new and exciting friends waiting for him. Nerds that sneak off to go smoking and drinking, nerds who get good grades and read a lot, and most particularly, one nerd named Alaska.

Alaska is smart, funny, flirty, self-destructive, and utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, she also has a boyfriend (which doesn't stop her from flirting with everyone else), so this quickly becomes an angsty tale of unrequited love. The story makes up for this, in part, by having an interesting cast of characters who have fairly standard teenage-troublemaker 'adventures'. It also makes up for this with An Exciting Event midway through the book, but I think the book is best enjoyed if you don't know what it is.

Personally, I would recommend reading another of John Green's books before this one; either An Abundance of Katherines or Paper Towns (and perhaps any of the others; I have not yet read either of his most recent novels, so cannot recommend them). If you like them, read Looking for Alaska; it's the same general idea. Green has a habit of unabashedly recycling character archetypes, although the characters are significantly tweaked to make each group interesting.

Upon reading these books I generally get the impression that they are written very specifically for young adults entering their last few years of high school, but apparently a lot of older folks like them, and I have to admit, I do too. While the tribulations of high-school and teen angst themes are a bit stronger than I really like, the characters are fun and the story is engaging.

Looking for Alaska won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award (presented by the American Library Association), and made the ALA 2005 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults list.

Did you stand there all alone?
Oh, I cannot explain
what's going down

This novel is better than I expected and certainly included more literary references and subreferences than I expected.

The summaries above (previous nodes) give a good outline, and it speaks to the quality of the book that knowing the general story does not diminish it. The clarity of the writing and the impact of the message are both powerful.

The message? Well, mostly it is this -
Life can be both unfair and spectacular. Often, in the same day.

Central idea:
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy questions the meaning of life. That simple; that profound.

That this is Mr.Green's first book makes it that much more impressive and I encourage anyone over 12 and anyone under the age of 100 to take a glance.

To downplay the message, or this book, because it is about young adults, or aimed at young adults, is missing the point. Or the points, which this books has several.


Fyi- the song lyrics, which I have bookended here, are from a song I heard on the radio the same day I finished the book. The fact that the lyrics match up well with this book might be a coincidence, but only if you believe in such things.

"I knew that I would know more dead people. The bodies pile up.
Could there be a space in my memory for each of them, or
would I forget a little ... every day for the rest of my life?”
John Green

You can drive
all night
Looking for the answers in the pouring rain
You wanna find
peace of mind- Looking for the answer
all lyrics from "Cigarette Daydreams"- Cage the Elephant

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