I have been a fan of Mr Green’s for some time. I am an avid follower of him and his brother on YouTube through there channel vlogbrothers (you guys should totally check it out), and I am a bit embarrassed to admit I had been watching their bi weekly video blogs for months before I learned that John Green was a best selling YA author.
For my first John Green book I chose his first John Green book, “Looking for Alaska” and I found it to be an amazing literary experience.
SPOILER ALLERT!!! This review, like most all reviews, contains massive amounts of spoilers. Trust me when I tell you, you don’t want this book spoiled!
“Looking for Alaska” is not a book about a road trip to the Arctic. I say this because when I first picked up the book I assumed it would be. I purchased the book on my Kindle and so I did not have access to the back cover that gives away just enough to hook you. I’m glad I didn’t because I got the rare experience of reading a book with know idea what it was about.
The book is divided into 2 parts, “before” and “after”, and I found my self wondering what “the event” (afters I referred to it) would be for a good half of the book. I enjoyed that, the constant question of what would happen to these characters that would be such a defining moment in their lives.
A brief summary: Miles is a high school junior who leaves home to go to boarding school in Alabama. When he gets there his new roommate, Colonel, nicknames him Pudge and introduces him to Alaska (yes, title Alaska) whom Pudge finds himself enamored of.
In this book we see the human condition in all its raw glory. It is tragic, and yet honest in a way so very few books are.
I am not, nor have I ever been a high school boy. But I have been a teenager, self assured in the knowledge that I knew more than my peers or elders, and I think that this may be the most accurate portrayal of adolescents I’ve ever read. I want to talk about a few specific scenes that stand out to me for the representation of what I remember that time in my life being.
The first is the scene takes place on “the last day”, Pudge and Laura (a girl Alaska set him up with) are watching TV when out of no where she asked if he wants a blow job. Now like any man I have ever met his answer was yes, but she had never given one nor had he ever received one. She proceeds to remove his pants, pull out his penis and put it in her mouth. Now the part that stands out to me is that this is all she did, she put it in her mouth and kinda froze. She froze because like most girls with no sexual experience, she had no idea what she should do, and like most boys with no sexual experience he didn’t know either. So they did the only thing they can think to do, they go ask Alaska what they are doing wrong. And Alaska “laughed and laughed. Sitting on her bed, she laughed until she cried.” For the record, I also laughed quite a bit. But I find the important part of this scene is how the author presents first time sexual experiences. It is not all flowers and romance, they don’t have a dalliance that is full filling and engaging. They are awkward, and have no idea what to do. And that, in my experience, is what a first time sexual experience is. Was this scene a central plot point vital to the flow of the story, no. But it was honest, and that is refreshing.
The second scene is “Twenty days after”. In this scene the Colonel yells at Pudge. “‘You don’t even care about her!’ He shouted, ‘All that matters is you and your precious fucking fantasy that you and Alaska had this goddamn secret love affair and she was going to leave Jake [her boyfriend] and you’d live happily ever after. But she kissed a lot of guys Pudge.'” This one stands out to me for personal reasons, because I have been there. Maybe we all have. When I was in high school I was head over heels for a friend of mine, and yes he knew it. But he had a girl friend. But i, much like Pudge, felt that my feeling were a) reciprocated, and b) that they trumped all of the labels like boyfriend and girlfriend. In essence, I felt that what we had was permanent and his relationship was temporary, and therefor I could wait. Teenagers often feel they know more than anyone else. But they are usually wrong. For the record, I never ended up dating my friend, we moved away before I could, though maybe that is a good thing. Today we are both happily married, to different people.
Now I want to talk about Mr Greens choice to put Alaska’s death in the middle of the book. I think it was wildly inspired as often death is the end of a story or the impetus of the plot. In this case I feel both would have been a mistake. Had Alaska’s death been the end if the book, we would never have had the chance to see Pudge and the Colonel grow from the experience. We wouldn’t have seen them heal or learn what happened to her in the end. Had it been at the beginning of the book, we wouldn’t have cared but her, and we would have urged them to simply “get over it”.
All in all I felt the book was well written, thought provoking, gripping honest, and at times heart wrenching. I think we can all agree that those are the qualities we look for in books. But for me, the best part was that I found my self confronted with my adolescence and was reminded of things I had thought I forgot.
If you have any suggestions for books I should review/read, leave them in the comments below.