Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”
In the past, I have read two other books by John Green – The Fault in Our Stars, and Paper Towns. TFIOS is easily one of my favourite books ever (and the film is pretty great too), while Paper Towns was just underwhelming and not at all what I was expecting. I have been told that Green’s writing can vary a lot which is probably how I’ve managed to have such different opinions about his books, but I was hoping that Looking For Alaska would be another one which I enjoyed. This novel follows the story of Miles Halter (“Pudge”) who leaves his home for boarding school and makes friends with some interesting people there. “The Colonel” (or Chip), Alaska, Takumi, and Lara all help shape his world as he endeavours to find the Great Perhaps. But Miles learns all too quickly, everyone has something they’re running from, and sometimes it makes them run right into a labyrinth they just can’t escape.
I had mixed expectations when I started reading this because of my previous experience with Green’s books. What I did like about this novel is that it had a lot of what I enjoy about Green’s writing – Pudge’s obsession with last words was not only fascinating but gave the novel an almost educational value, because they were true facts. I also loved that in his religion class, while learning about Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity, Pudge would wonder about philosophical ideas, giving the novel a depth beyond just a coming of age book.
As was the same with Paper Towns, I think the reason I didn’t connect with this like I did with TFIOS is just because the characters weren’t likeable enough for me. I liked the story, and I think that their personalities were realistic, but I wanted to fall in love with them, or want them to be my best friend, not just follow them around for a bit and happily discard them after I turned the final page.
I don’t tend to like YA books for a few reasons, but most notably because I never love the characters. Just like Margo in Paper Towns, Alaska definitely fit Green’s manic pixie dream girl trope, and that’s probably one of the reasons I could never get fully onboard with this book – it was too pixie dream girl and too YA. (Disclaimer: if YA’s your thing, then I’m sure you’ll find no problem with this book being too YA!)
For me, I knew I was never going to like this book as much as I like TFIOS, but that’s okay; Looking For Alaska was still an enjoyable read which I think makes a poignant remark about the ability for people to cope with grief, especially at such a young age. I still definitely respect John Green for his ability to write and tell a story which is not only compelling, but will make you question how to search for your own Great Perhaps.