Monday, February 25, 2008
Review: Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Summary (from School Library Journal): From the very first page, tension fills John Green's Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel (Dutton, 2005). Miles Halter, 16, is afraid that nobody will show up at his party because he doesn't have many friends. He loves to read biographies and discover the last words attributed to famous people. He's particularly intrigued with the dying words of poet Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a great perhaps." Miles is leaving his loving Florida home for the "great perhaps" of the same Alabama boarding school attended by his father. Ominous chapter headings (40 days before, 10 days after) reveal that something tragic may happen. At school, Miles is accepted by a brainy group of pranksters led by his roommate and Alaska Young, a smart and sexy feminist. The teen becomes captivated by his new friends who spend as much energy on sex, smoking, drinking, and cutting-up as they do on reading, learning, and searching for life's meaning. As the school year progresses, Miles's crush on Alaska intensifies, even after it becomes evident that her troubled past sometimes causes her to be self-destructive. This novel is about real kids dealing with the pressures of growing up and feeling indestructible. Listeners will be riveted as the friends band together to deal with the catastrophic events that plague their junior year, and rejoice at their triumphs.
My thoughts: I'd been wanting to read the Printz Award-winner for quite a while and I'm glad the What's in a Name challenge gave me the chance. As I've said before, I don't read many "boy books" - but this one is quite remarkable. As SLJ points out, the characters are very real - they aren't perfect, they have quirks, yet they care about each other and their education. Alaska is a bundle of contrasts - sometimes sweet, sometimes caring, sometimes mean, sometimes self-destructive. She's very smart, but her pain causes her to do things before thinking them through, hurting herself and others.
I was so happy when Miles made friends at "the Creek" because the opening scene of his pathetic birthday party is really sad, although he takes it in stride. The rail-thin newbie is given the ironic nickname of Pudge (because he's rail-thin) by his roomate the Colonel (so called because of his prank-organizing prowess) and from then on he's part of the Colonel's group, with Alaska and secondary characters Takumi and foreign beauty Lara.
The tension caused by the countdown is a great effect - you know something bad's going to happen and you figure it will probably happen to Alaska, but when the time comes, it's still a blow.
Despite the tragedy, the book also has humour, which I appreciated. One of my favourite scene was Miles being bitten in the behind by a swan while he's running for his life after pulling a prank. "And then I was running with a noticeable limp, because my ass was on fire, and I thought to myself, What the hell in in swan saliva that burns so badly?"
John Green became something of an It Author after this was published, and now I see why. I think I'll have to give his next book, An Abundance of Katherines, a go.