No, this book is not about someone with really poor geography skills. Looking for Alaska by John Green is a harrowing coming of age story that centrals around Alaska Young, a beautiful, emotionally troubled teen.
The story begins when the narrator, a boy called Pudge (Miles Halter), decides to discover his “Great Perhaps” (from the last words of Francois Rabelais) and leave his normal high school to go to a prestigious boarding school in Alabama. Though Culver Creek is not at all as extravagant as he had expected, he does end up grasping that elusive Great Perhaps when he becomes close friends with Alaska (the girl for whom he also has incorrigible feelings), his boisterous roommate The Colonel, a boy called Takumi, and a girl named Lara. And when a tragedy hits their friend group, they don’t let it destroy them, but rather grow even closer because of it.
I’ve got to say, I’m rather impressed by John Green. The first book I read by him was The Fault in Our Stars, which was really good, but – I felt – a little flat in terms of characters. The themes were rich and thought-provoking, but it seemed like all the characters had the same brain stuffed in different bodies. Looking for Alaska, on the other hand, does not have this problem. All the characters are elaborately unique: The Colonel, a short, poor boy with a huge brain and an even huger heart, Miles Halter, a timid boy who never had friends until getting to boarding school, Alaska Young, a girl so troubled by her past that she’s let herself become entangled in a sticky web of suffering, and even the secondary characters are full of life.
“I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”
What is really fascinating about this book is that everything and everyone in it is brutally honest – there is no sugarcoating. These kids aren’t the image of perfection – they make a plethora of mistakes, including but not limited to drinking, smoking, and hooking up (“But there was so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I’ll have more time for reading when I’m old and boring.”) – and they know that what they are doing isn’t necessarily on the straight and narrow. Nevertheless, their knowing rebellion is refreshing, and I found myself rooting for them in spite of it all. Furthermore, with their honesty in regard to their own actions also comes an honesty in their way of looking at the world – they are not blinded by what others of their age, perhaps, are.
“What is an ‘instant’ death anyway? How long is an instant? Is it one second? Ten? The pain of those seconds must have been awful as her heart burst and her lungs collapsed and there was no air and no blood to her brain and only raw panic. What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minutes, instant pudding an hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.”
This novel delves into some really deep issues about life, death, love, and friendship. If you feel like a quick read with some profound themes, I definitely suggest this one.
“Alaska finished her cigarette and flicked it into the river.
‘Why do you smoke so damn fast?’ I asked.
She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”