5 out of 5 stars
Looking For Alaska is an amazing book. I went into it knowing about all of the hype, but I ignored it and tried to keep a clear mind. I’m glad that I did so because I went into the story blind – I had no idea what was going to happen, who the characters were and what I was letting myself in for. It was first published in 2005 and is John Green’s debut novel.
Following the character Miles “Pudge” Halter, the novel follows his first year at a Culver Creek Preparatory bordering school in Birmingham, Alabama where he meets a whole array of characters. The main little group that he befriends includes: Chips “The Colonel” Martin, Takumi Hikohito, Lara Buterskaya, and the titular character, Alaska Young. There is also the two main teacher characters: Mr. Starnes (“The Eagle”), the Dean of the school, and Mr. Hyde (“Old Man”) the religious studies teacher.
I was amazed by the diversity amongst the characters despite there shared characteristic of being ingenious outcasts.
Miles was nerdy and anti-social. I related to him with his interests in random things like last words, his inability to talk to other people without seeming frightened and his want for something greater in life. His Great Perhaps.
The Colonel was an interesting character to read about. His values were so strong and I loved that he stuck by them. The “no ratting” rule played such a strong point, even when it started to eat away at them near the end of the book. He was a diverse character in that he was brilliantly smart and tried hard yet he came from a background that normally would have hindered him. When the group talked about the best days of their lives, I thought that his was the best by far just because of how selfless it was – it was more of a fantasy, but the sheer fact that the best day of his life would be giving back to his mother for everything she had done for him was just amazing.
Takumi was a random character for me. I liked that he wasn’t a stereotype, that he excelled at something that wouldn’t really be considered for a character of Japanese decent and that it was pointed out within the novel how stupid stuff that type of behaviour is. What I didn’t like was how he bailed near the end of the novel only leaving a note behind having kept his secret about Alaska for so long. It seemed cowardly.
Lara was a likeable character – too forgiving but cute and honest. She was naive but got along with the group. Her tiny relationship with Miles could have been great, but instead it was short lived and she was thrown aside because of Miles’ obsession with Alaska. I felt that she should have demanded more of an explanation from Miles instead of just forgiving him; especially after what she does for him – a scene that came out of the blue and surprised me. I found it interesting trying to understand her accent through how it was written (“He ees good looking”), and the little back story about her move to America and her parents dependency on her ability to speak English. It was realistic, and I know some people who have had to do this for their families coming from Poland, Romania and other parts of Europe into the UK and seeing a character that showed those experiences pretty much to how they described it was refreshing.
When I look back at the character of Alaska, I feel that she was the most well written of the group. She was amazingly flawed and other characters picked up on it, but it was because she was flawed that I liked her so much as a character. She was brilliantly smart, cared for her friends but if you got on her bad side then you knew it. She could flip her emotions from traumatically upset to ecstatically happy in the blink of an eye and moved through the days so effortlessly that when she died it was like a giant void was placed into the book.
Observing the group’s search for answers after their friend’s death, how they coped or didn’t cope was amazing. Dealing with death is something that everyone needs to understand and sheltering children from it is something that we shouldn’t do. Death is inevitable and this book highlights fantastically – and by doing so with a character so young makes it all the more important. Young people die everyday – not just in third world countries or war stricken countries, but in countries like America, the UK, France, Canada, anywhere in the world! From illness, suicide or by accident, young people die everyday just as elderly people do – death is not just a factor that comes into play in a persons life past the age of sixty, it is ever present from the moment of birth and John Green presents that fact beautifully. The use of last words throughout creates more depth to the tragedy that death is – the fact that most times a young person dies their final words are often left unknown.
This novel, though not perfect like every other story told in the world (because really, what does perfection mean?), is amazing in its portrayal of death and how we never really know what it is to die. No one can have the answers about death and that’s the whole point – no one knows what it is until it’s happened, and then they aren’t around to give the answers. All we can do is speculate and find some way to get through the labyrinth which leads me to my final note and closing sentence of my review. My favourite quote from the book that sums up everything perfectly:
“After all this time, it seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out- but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.”