Looking for Alaska by John Green
Published by Harper Collins Childrens
3 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback (also available on kindle, ebook and audiobook, buy yours here)
I knew I wasn’t going to like Looking for Alaska before I bought it. There has been so much hype about Alaska and John Green in general and I rarely agree with the masses. BUT I cannot ignore those masses either, I can’t be a credible reviewer if I only read those books that appeal to me, and if I stuck with my favourite genres I’d of missed some amazing works.
So Alaska……..the plot is quite simple really, set in two parts, BEFORE and AFTER an event that changes the characters worlds. Floridian Miles has decided to attending boarding school in Alabama, he is looking for a ‘Great Perhaps’ (ala ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps’ by Francois Rabelais) and he’s never going to get that at his present school, friendless, alone and pretty miserable. So off to boarding school he goes. Miles is soon christened ‘Pudge’ (on account of him being so skinny, ironic, huh?) by his room mate the Colonel and is introduced to the heroine of the story, and its name sake – Alaska. Miles soon becomes besotted with the vibrant, bubbly, unpredictable Alaska, even though she tells us frequently that she’s sooooo in love with her boyfriend.
The story progresses as the kids become close friends, through first smokes, first drinks and first girl friends. Then the EVENT happens (no I’m not going to tell you what it is, although its fairly obvious) and the group dynamic is changed forever. The latter half of the book follows the friends as they deal with the EVENT and the aftermath, as well as how their lives change because of it.
As I said, I knew I wasn’t going to like Alaska, and I didn’t – the book or the girl (more on the girl later). The book wasn’t bad, its was just far too self indulgent for me. Miles doesn’t read like a teenage boy, he reads like a man writing as a teenage boy. The book just tries to be far too clever for me, it reminds me of a teenage version of something Scarlett Thomas would write – so concerned with being clever, though provoking and philosophical that it fails at all three. The whole labyrinth and great perhaps links through out the book are annoying at best, they are not clues to a deeper meaning in life, they are just Green trying to be clever.
There is also the issues with the quality of writing, there is no doubt Green is a great writer, although I think his work (based upon Alaska) would be best aimed at an older age group that want to reflect upon their lives and their meaning. However there were numerous things that annoyed me about his writing style firstly was the lazy list writing ie: 1)it was blue 2) its was black 3) it was green 4)it was purple 5) it was pink (ok not a quote from the book but you get the idea). The lists were everywhere in the book, and rather annoying. Then we have Miles’ apparent obsession with the layers of clothes between him an a girl. Granted I’ve never been a teenage boy but I somehow doubt they all obsessively count ‘4 layers between us now’ more likely they focus on whats UNDER the layers, once in the book would have been acceptable but Miles talks about the layers over and over and over again, it felt like padding for the book, and nothing more.
On to Alaska, I understand that she’s not meant to be perfect, I understand that she’s not always meant to be understandable, but she’s also not likeable, the reader (or me at least) doesn’t bond with her, doesn’t get Miles’ bond with her really, and is generally underwhelmed by the apparent bombshell that is Alaska. I think in trying to make her messed-up and struggling with issues, Green has lost the essence of the girl he was trying to write about. Miles is a little more likeable, he’s more normal, trying to fit in, struggling with being a teenager with out the over-the-top dramatics that Alaska uses. His circle of friends are well written, the reader gets to know them all well and cares about what happens to them (I particularly like Chip’s mum and the Eagle).
The book for me was an ok read, I gave it 3 stars as I can see why so many people love it, but for me it was just trying too hard. I suspect it’ll just be a case of me not liking Green’s writing style, I wouldn’t say no to a new book by him, but I doubt I’d be pre-ordeirng it either.