Looking for Alaska – what did I find?

Looking for Alaska – by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the first I’ve read of John Green’s novels and I’ll begin by saying that I have very mixed feelings about it. Recommended to me by a friend who read and adored it and subsequently insisted that I do the same, I picked up Green’s novel with the expectation that I would quite quickly find myself addicted to life at Culver Creek boarding school. My experience of it however, was far from what I expected, as is most often the case when reading a book about which you’ve developed a premature opinion. While “addicted” would be a grossly inaccurate description of my experience, I would definitely describe the book as being intriguing, insightful and certainly worth reading.

Written in first person from the perspective of Miles Halter, a scrawny, awkward sixteen-year-old boy from Florida, Green’s novel is an insightful and poignant exploration of youth, rebellion, sexuality, friendship, death and suffering. What is possibly its most intriguing aspect is the way in which the chapters are titled: “One Hundred and Thirty-Six Days Before”, “One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Days Before” etcetera, until…

Looking for Alaska, while a book of great profundity and insight, lacked the fundamentals of a great novel: absorbing plot and characters. Alaska Young, the focal point of Miles’ boarding school experience, while intended by Green to be mysterious and enigmatic, was a confusing and ill-developed character who never struck me as particularly likeable or easy to identify with. Miles himself, while serving as the actual narrator, seemed somewhat two-dimensional to me and lacked the energy needed to truly bring alive his commentary and thereby the plot. As a result of this, the story seemed a little flat in spite of the gravity of its events and never truly captivated me as a reader.

However, although this book does not come anywhere near my ‘Favourites’ list and is of a writing style that, at times and in my own personal opinion, leaves quite a lot to be desired by a nerd like myself, I did find certain phrases and paragraphs to hold some beautiful and startling truths.

“Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be.”

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.”

“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.”

“I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.”

“Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war”

As I initially stated, I have mixed feelings about this book. The story itself, I did not like. The characters, I was quite impartial to. But, as a whole, I found it to be insightful, inspirational and extraordinarily thought-provoking, with an abundance of wise and poignant sentences that I will surely keep with me for a long time to come.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in young minds coming to terms with guilt, grief, suffering and sexuality for it certainly does say a lot about these topics. You never know, you may actually fall in love with Alaska, Miles and their journey despite the fact that I wasn’t able to: every reader for himself!

Let me know what your thoughts are!

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9 thoughts on “Looking for Alaska – what did I find?

  1. I’ve been recommended this book before, and I probably should read it to see what it’s about. From your description I felt like it was somewhere near The Catcher In The Rye in terms of themes, can these two books be compared?

    • The Catcher in the Rye is on my to-read list but I’m ashamed to say I’ve yet to tackle it. But if its themes and insights do the work that the plot and characters don’t, then I’d say the two books are definitely comparable. But I would recommend you give Looking for Alaska a try – you may enjoy the story more than I did and if not, it has some memorable quotes!

      • I will definitely add it to my “Books to Read in 2012” list! Thanks for the recommendation. I actually own a copy but have never felt particularly inclined to chose it over the dozens of other books I want to read. But I’ll give it a try!

  2. Thumbs up for Catcher in the Rye!

    I’ve never heard of it before now, but I may have to add ‘Looking for Alaska’ to my reading list simply on the basis of those few quotes – particularly the one about comets. How beautiful. I do so love YA lit.

  3. I think John Green’s strength is his characters. I wasn’t crazy about Alaska either (she reminded me way too much of the people I have known with bipolar disorder), but I found Miles to be quite endearing and really enjoyed watching him grow. The whole “mystery” aspect of the plot was sort of blah, but overall I enjoyed this book because I enjoyed the wittiness of the characters and thought that the big issues were dealt with in an fairly mature, non-nauseating manner.

    I have heard only good things about Green’s latest book “The Fault in Our Stars”… haven’t gotten to it yet as I waiting to get it from the library!

    • I do agree that the issues were dealt with well but sadly, I was never able to really feel much connected to the characters. I can acknowledge on an intellectual level that they were quirky and well-constructed by Green but on an emotional level, I found the plot and characters to be the least satisfying aspects of the book. I did laugh a few times at the Colonel but otherwise, I simply enjoyed the handling of the themes.

      I really love hearing others’ thoughts though and from what you’ve said, I think I may have simply been too hard on the book.

      Thanks for commenting and thanks for sharing your thoughts – you have some really thought-provoking insights and I’ve loved hearing all that you’ve shared about my posts and on your own blog!

  4. Pingback: February in Literary Retrospect « Free Page Numbers

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