Miles has lived a fairly lonely life throughout school when he decides to go to the same boarding school his dad went to, Culver Creek, to finish out his high school years. Rather than spending all of his time researching the last words of dead people, Miles wants to live, to experience his “Great Perhaps”. And on arrival, he almost immediately starts to, as his roommate instantly befriends him and introduces him to a friend, Alaska Young. Miles has never met a girl like Alaska – a clever, funny, beautiful girl, always living on the edge and taking risks. Starting out on a countdown to a mysterious event, Looking For Alaska is suspenseful, heart-breaking, and completely real.
John Green is famous around the blogosphere for writing real teenagers with real emotions, and I found nothing less than that in this book. At the very beginning, I found myself immediately drawn in; we start off at Miles’s going-away party, which no one but his parents and two awkward acquaintances attend. How could I not relate to a geeky boy that loves history and struggles to make friends? He’s pragmatic, clever, and funny, and when he met people at his new school right away, I was already his enthusiastic cheerleader.
The story only got better. I’m a big fan of boarding school and even house party stories. When you get lots of characters living together at once, fireworks happen, and they quite literally do so here. There are so many interesting dynamics going on, from pranks to friendships to the traditional high school hierarchy. Each character was quirky and distinct in some way, so I never lost Miles’s friends amongst the crowds. Miles is speedily renamed “Pudgy”, which quite effectively marks his separation as a kid with only adults for friends and a kid who is ready to be a teenager.
And now we get to the point where we talk about spoilers, albeit vaguely, so look away if you haven’t read this book. This is one that I believe is given away on the American cover, but not on my British one. I have one notable incident later in the book that struck me as incredibly true to life and, I think, illustrates very well why John Green is so beloved for writing real teenagers. After a death occurs, a peripheral character comes to Miles, convinced that she’s had “a sign” from said person. Miles doesn’t want to hear it. This character had never related to the one who died in real life, and while he was really suffering, he just wasn’t interested. Instead, he’s annoyed.
This is something which has always bothered me about other people’s reactions to my brother’s death. People who wouldn’t have given him the time of day in real life were torn up about his death, and it’s always bugged me that it wasn’t him they were upset about, it was the confrontation of their own mortality. I always felt that they should have shown something when he was alive. And here John Green has illustrated precisely this. The other characters don’t care about the person who died. They’ve just realized that they themselves will die, and are reaching out for signs that it’s not so bad. What a uniquely teenage experience this is, that realization of death, and what a magnificent job Green did depicting it.
Anyway, to sum up, Looking For Alaska was a fantastic contemporary YA read, a true look at what it feels like to be a teenager, with a suspenseful, emotional plot. Highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
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