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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lefty's Lowdown: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Published: March 3, 2005 by Speak
Source: Purchased
Summary from Goodreads:
Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .

Nothing is ever the same.

A lot of people have dubbed this their Favorite John Green Book. This is the 3rd book I've read by him and the only title I can really give it is A John Green Book. I liked it a lot--as expected, Green does some really wonderful things in this novel. But, again, that's expected. Because it's A John Green Book, and you kind of know what you're getting before you crack it open. I've been procrastinating this review because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to say. I didn't (and still don't) know how to express that I found this book to be enjoyable on so many fronts and also underwhelming in other aspects. 

For me, the main appeal was getting to the "After" section. While I was pretty sure I knew what happens (because it's an old book and there are spoilers), I still wanted to see what changed and how it changed the characters. I was correct about the Big Event but it still hit me right in the stomach. But then it got kind of boring. I hate that that's the case because we have these teenagers trying to figure out grief, trying to figure out how to move on from tragedy and yet not move on at the same time. But by that point, the book had lost its appeal. I'm not sure why--I'm usually into introspection, but it became a little too much of solving a mystery everyone knows is unsolvable, I guess. It just felt sluggish at the end, and I put the last 20 pages off for almost an entire day because there was nothing tethering me to the story anymore. 

So what DID I like? In typical John Green style, the characters were a delight to read about. They are all above-average intelligence, having an existential crisis, and not even close to acting their age. It's like a formula with John Green, but you can't help but be swept away by the characters. Pudge, who is fascinated by people's last words. The Colonel, who has an incredible memory and cherishes loyalty. Alaska, who reads a ton and plans pranks and has mood swings. It's an intriguing cast and I admire the little quirks that John Green gives his characters. The life he gives them. The depth he gives them. 

What really differentiates John Green from other YA writers, though, are the ideas he brings to his fiction. Other people talk about death and dying and the meaning of life in their books, but not, from what I've seen, at the levels John Green does. Like I said, these characters are all basically having an existential crisis throughout the novel...but, like, SAME. I think, eventually, we all start to question what it mean to die and how that effects what it means to live. I just do it more than most people, so some of the sentiments in this novel were so very real to me. And I like that, I appreciate it, because it's hard to find someone else who has the same questions I do and is open about it. But at the same time, it caused me a lot of anxiety when I was reading it for that same reason.

Essentially, if you like John Green, you're definitely going to like this book, because it's so much like his others. If you don't like his other work, you're not going to like this one. HOWEVER! If you've yet to hop on board the John Green train, I'd say you should at least try. Looking for Alaska has depth and darkness and discovery. It has character that, while you may not love them, you'll most likely be charmed by. Yes, in some ways I was underwhelmed, but in other ways, I was wowed by John Green's talent.

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