Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska  Looking for Alaska has been on my radar for a long time.  It seemed to pop up everywhere I looked, with everyone having nothing but good things to say about it.  I finally got around to reading Alaska and now will add my voice to those singing its praises.

So much was great about this book.  It is hard to write about this book without giving away major plot points so I instead I'm going to focus on two things, or specifically two quotes that are used in the book.

"I go to seek a Great Perhaps." ~ François Rabelais

The story begins with Miles or "Pudge" headed from his Florida home to boarding school in Alabama in search of the "Great Perhaps."  Pudge is fond of memorizing people's last words and he quotes Rabelais to explain to his parents why he wants to go to boarding school.  The "Great Perhaps" completely captures that time when you are a teenager, influenced by romance, mystery and adventure stories (whether written or on a screen), and waiting for life to begin, because it seems like nothing ever exciting happens in your town/city/school but you know one day it will and you can't wait.  Pudge heads to boarding school seeking for his life to really begin, and it does.  He makes real friends for the first time, including the beautiful, mysterious, fun, and moody Alaska.  Pudge has no choice but to fall in lust with her.  Now if this were a less well written young adult fiction book, Pudge would be the nerd/party kid/ or some other stereotype who gets fixed by his new friends who teach him how to have fun/be more responsible or whatever lesson is to be conveyed.  That doesn't happen here.  Of course Pudge changes and grows as anyone might upon immersing oneself in new surroundings with new people, but he is fully formed character when the novel begins as are (most of) the other characters.  

"How will I ever out of this labyrinth!" ~ Simón Bolívar

Miles' religious studies teacher uses Simón Bolívar's quote as the basis of an essay question, asking students how they personally "ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering."  This question reverberates throughout the story.  I had never heard this quote before reading this book and yet it evoked and immediately familiar feeling.  It so perfectly captures how it feels (at any age) to be depressed and/or hopeless, when something terrible has happened and you're wondering if things will ever get better, if you'll ever not feel the pain you're feeling right at the moment.  Looking for Alaska is full of teenage fun and giddiness, but there is also sadness as the characters struggle with dealing with their own suffering.  In less competent hands this could have turned into a Hallmark movie but luckily Green manages to write the characters in a way that feels real.  There lives are messy but without the over-the-top melodrama.  There are questions that never get answered, just like in real life.  Tragedy happens, people grieve in their individual ways, and then somehow they manage to move on finding their legs even after the ground has shifted beneath them.

In case it is not clear I very much enjoyed Looking for Alaska and would definitely recommend it.  Even for those who do not regularly read young adult fiction this is worth a read.

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