Monday, December 23, 2013
Looking for Alaska
Speak, an imprint of the Penguin Group
First, let me just say how ardently I love and admire John Green. As soon as I started reading Looking for Alaska, I knew that Green loves books as much as I do. And Green knows and understands both teenagers and adults. That is so rare. I only read this novel because my high school students so universally love it. Among my students, Looking for Alaska and The Fault Is in Our Stars are probably the most-loved and most-often read realistic YA novels.
What I loved about this book is that it is so layered and intricately crafted. Looking for Alaska is a novel that gives its young characters the weight and development of fully formed people, who although they are young, are capable of profound emotion and thought. At t he same time they are capable of profound mischief and profoundly bad behavior. All of which makes Miles Halter, Alaska Young, and the other characters in this novel both believable and heartbreaking.
For readers who haven't yet read Looking for Alaska, here's a quick run-down on the plot. High school student Miles Halter, an unpopular and moderately miserable kid from Florida, transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School. There Miles finds friendship and love, but also pain. Miles has a fascination with the last words of famous people. Taking his cue from poet Francois Rabelais, Miles goes into the "Great Perhaps" in search of something more than the dull and depressing life he has in Florida. He falls for the sexy, intelligent, and unavailable Alaska Young pretty much at first sight. Alaska's obsession is her Life's Library, which is mostly stacked in piles on the floor of her dorm room, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The General in His Labyrinth, and everything that adults like to think is forbidden to teenagers.
Looking for Alaska does not offer a sanitized version of teenage life. Green's characters do the things that teenagers do. Some people might have a problem with that. Green's teenage characters experiment with sex (handled mostly off-stage). There is a hilarious episode with the virginal Miles and his very inexperienced first girlfriend, and a sexual scene that is far from graphic. Green finesses the themes of sexuality and experimentation with alcohol and other substances without glorifying or romanticizing. What Green totally gets about teenagers is how they think; for instance, Green knows what many adults forget--teenagers think about death. Green weaves philosophy, literature, religion (mostly Buddhism) and outlandishly ingenious pranks into a novel that asks all the big questions, but frames them within a teenage world.
There is little else I can say except "read this book." Looking for Alaska has been highly praised, and much of the narrative drive is toward an inevitable event which shakes the world of every character in the book. I can't tell you much else without spoiling the experience of the book.
I will undoubtedly read more of John Green's books. His writing is artful, engaging, and true. What more could a reader ask?