Looking for Alaska (John Green)Wednesday, 15. April 2009
I’ve been following John Green‘s blog and vlog (which he shares with his brother) for a while and been greatly entertained by it. But until now I’ve never gotten around to reading any of his books. Looking for Alaska is his first novel. He writes for young adults.
Miles starts the new school year at a boarding school in Alabama. He didn’t leave much behind – except his parents – and now he’s out to search “the Great Perhaps”. He finds new friends at Boarding School – The Colonel, Takumi, Lara and the enigmatic Alaska – but also new problems. He falls in love for the first time. And he has some tough choices to make.
I liked Looking for Alaska, though not as much as I expected to. I think that’s the ending’s fault. It’s a nice book but there were some things that made me cringe. In any case, it’s a quick read, it entertains and has some starting points for discussion, which might possibly make it the ideal young adult book.
[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]
I was honestly surprised. For some reason I had the plot of an entirely different book in mind when I started reading Looking for Alaska (don’t ask me where I got that plot from, though…). When it turned out that it wasn’t going the way I expected it too (which was clear after about half of the book), I was very confused and really surprised. “So, this isn’t about a road trip? This is about death? How the hell did I get those two mixed up?”
I really liked some of the characters, especially the Colonel and Mike. But the rest seemed a little bland and one-dimensional. Except for Alaska who was written as an enigma and stayed one. Also, she was pretty much a magic pixie dream girlfriend. She wasn’t bland, but I didn’t really like her.
I liked Miles’ obsession with the Last Words of people but I would have liked more of that.
The pranks the people played were partly not very spectacular and partly really mean. The first night Miles stays at the boarding school, he gets thrown into a lake with his legs and arms ducttaped so he can’t swim. This is incredibly dangerous, of course and it is a hazing ritual, but there’s no comment on this other than “what, usually they don’t ducttape you!” Of course I know that you can’t make an in-depth analysis of every issue in every book, but I would have liked more of a comment on this abuse. And it is abuse. To just leave it out there as a reality without saying anything about it, makes it seem normal and what is normal is not discussed or fought.
[Plus, another prank was some guys flooding Alaska's room, where she'd stacked all of her books, which of course ruined most. That made me want to cry. Treating books that way, it's despicable. But that's just a very personal thing. :)]
As I mentioned before I didn’t like the ending much. The entire second half is Miles’ (and everybody’s, really) slowly coming to term with Alaska’s death (through finding out what exactly happened). And then Miles suddenly decides that there is something after death, that Alaska’s essence somehow lives on and everything’s peachy.
Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Plus, this sudden turn to religion by Miles (he never was religious, even if the topic interested him) came out of nowhere.
Green writes well and I’m curious about his other books. As Looking for Alaska was his first novel, I’m pretty confident that his others are more reassured and that some of the mistakes he made in LfA will be gone there.