Saturday, September 14, 2013

Looking for Alaska - John Green (2006)

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green
RATING: 3.5/5
THE Low Down

Miles "Pudge" Halter's only friends are the books that his father constantly reminds him to stop highlighting and the only guests at his going away party are a couple of kids he occasionally sits with at lunch who probably only came because their parents made them. But his books tell him that there is more than this, and he thinks his ticket to finding it is hiding in the woods outside Birmingham, Alabama at Culver Creek Preparatory School. He doubts his decision from the moment he arrives to find a lack of air conditioning, a room that looks nothing like what his JFK biography told him boarding school looked like, and once again being the outsider. Until he meets Alaska Young. Alaska is a whirlwind - holding guilt about her mother's death, bucking the system while still wanting to be a part of it. The whirlwind turns Pudge's life on end, launching him toward his "Great Perhaps", makes him question everything, answer what he can, and try to hold onto his heart. And then the storm is over. Torn between whether knowledge truly is the best thing or just a path towards more pain, Pudge and friends delve deeper into who, and what, Alaska really was and in turn are forced to face these very questions about themselves.

MY Low Down

I both loved and not-so-much loved Looking for Alaska, and for such a wide range of reasons. First off though, it is a well written and *mostly* creative novel. It draws you in the from the beginning and keeps a quick pace that holds onto you. I liked the characters. I liked the message. I liked the story. I didn't love any of it.

The premise of Miles and Alaska is great, but just a little too typical. I love Alaska's passion, maddening mood swings and inspiring energy, but I have also loved it in every other character like her in every other story I've read or watched that had such a character (my knee jerk comparison was Drew Barrymore in Mad Love). They are endearing and intriguing, but they need something to separate them from all the others before them.

The underlying themes Alaska pulls you into though are well constructed and presented, and in a way that many of all ages can relate to. We have all been the outsider, loved and lost, rebelled against the system. Green writes his way through the days of angst-ridden teenagers in a believable way that makes you think that YES, that could have been me, and what would I have done? How would I have reacted.

Unfortunately though, I also got hung up on the number of things that just struck me as so unrealistic. As I've said before, I'm completely ok with creative license where appropriate. This is not the kind of story where I want that exercised. This story is serious, down to earth in dealing with real issues and sky ward in energy. I did not need it go skyward in liberties though. For example...has anyone else ever heard of a school with only a few "expelable offenses" that are so black and white that the students can basically prank, riot and raise the most ridiculous kind of ruckus, but are safe because they didn't "officially" commit an expelable offense? And smoking in their dorm room? Really? These details may seem nit picky, but if you want me to buy into the serious themes of the story and that these could be real kids dealing with real life issues, their setting needs to be realistic.

Overall though this is an almost great book, one which I can certainly see a lot of value in. I can easily see it being a 4 or 5 star read for others who see things from a different angle than I do as it is well written, engaging and gutsy in taking on tough subjects.

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