Looking for Alaska
"I go to seek a Great Perhaps." - Francois Rabelais (last words)
"How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?" - Simón Bolívar (last words)
John Green's slow-to-the-punch yet devastatingly arresting debut novel is a prime example of what happens when a writer intertwines seemingly ordinary characters with a storyline that is ripe with philosophical musings, hard-hitting life issues, and a shocking plot twist that will compel readers to reexamine their previous conceptions about the book and its characters, and give them ample space to think --- really think --- about what it means to be alive and present in the world.
Separated into two distinct sections entitled "Before" and "After," LOOKING FOR ALASKA is a compelling bird's-eye view of the ineffaceable effects of love and death on both the collective and the individual psyche.
Before. The first half of LOOKING FOR ALASKA is understandably sluggish as Green takes his time introducing the book's major characters. Miles Halter (Pudge), the novel's protagonist, is fifteen years old and what parents and teachers would call a good kid. He's chicken-legged skinny, undeniably bright, and a bit of an idealist at heart. In addition to having a penchant for remembering famous figures' last words, Miles gets wrapped up in the significance of those words enough to leave his sheltered home in Florida in order to seek out Rabelais's Great Perhaps --- which oddly enough, translates into going to boarding school in rural Alabama.
There, he befriends a ragtag group of early teens, including his boisterous roommate, appropriately nicknamed the Colonel; Takumi, the soft-spoken and musically inclined Japanese whiz kid; Lara, the gorgeous and mild-mannered Romanian; and Alaska, the sexy, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants leader of the group. For a while, not much happens to push the plot along aside from these characters' occasional mischief, i.e. getting busted for smoking cigarettes on campus, drinking liquor in their dorm rooms, sneaking out after curfew, and the like --- harmless behavior with harmless consequences.
After. In the second half of the novel, Green discloses what he's been building up to in previous chapters (with headings suitably titled "one hundred and thirty-six days before," "one hundred twenty-seven days before," and so on): Alaska Young's death. In an up-close and personal manner, the details of Alaska's last moments are chronicled through the eyes of Miles and his pals as they struggle to understand how something so unthinkable could have happened in their intimate community. Was it an accident, or did she kill herself in a selfish attempt to plow her way out of the labyrinth? Could her friends have stopped her, knowing what they knew about her past? Would life ever be the same, now that Alaska was dead?
Sadness, guilt, anger, trust, renewal --- the signature signs of grief and healing are all delicately unpacked in John Green's coming-of-age novel. Full of quiet incidents with larger than life lessons, LOOKING FOR ALASKA is a poignant novel that teens should not overlook.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on March 3, 2005
Looking for Alaska
- Publication Date: March 3, 2005
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
- ISBN-10: 0525475060
- ISBN-13: 9780525475064