A quick disclaimer before I get started; the promised Catch-22 review is coming, but I’m ill, stressed and incredibly tired at the moment and I want to be in tip-top condition to give the novel the well-thought out and in-depth review that it deserves.
Anyway. Looking for Alaska. John Green.
I decided to get on what one might call the ‘John Green hype’ after seeing a few friends of mine with similar tastes in literature raving about him on Twitter. I got the impression that he tends to write tragic teenage love stories and, hoping he’d live up to everything I’d read, I ordered Looking for Alaska.
In many ways, Looking for Alaska wasn’t quite what I had expected- it’s not a story about a boy and girl who fall in love, but rather a boy who falls in love with a girl with a boyfriend- and obtains a girlfriend while he’s at it. They do share a kiss but they never become a couple, so thankfully we are safe from Miles and Alaska becoming the Edward and Bella of 2013. Unlike I had imagined, the book isn’t at all soppy and the protagonist doesn’t spend hours antagonising over the tiniest little detail which is, however sexist this may sound, one of the advantages of having a male narrator. The novel deals more with what actually happens than Miles’ trivial worries, and we’re not subjected to a day-by-day report of his mooning over Alaska.
Maybe I should back up a bit and explain the plot- Miles, a high school ‘nobody’ leaves his Florida high school for his dad’s old boarding school, Culver Creek, in Alabama. There he befriends Chip ‘the Colonel’ Martin and Alaska Young, to whom he is instantly attracted. Miles falls for Alaska despite her having a boyfriend, but does not try to woo her and is frequently frustrated by her volatile nature and mysterious allusions to her ‘screwing up’. Miles, Alaska and the Colonel spend the year playing pranks and smoking in secret until (spoiler alert!) Alaska dies, and Miles and the Colonel (who, by the way, does not harbour romantic feelings for Alaska) have to learn to deal with losing their friend as well as coming to terms with their own guilt.
Personally, I preferred the novel before Alaska’s death. She was a fascinating character and I was always itching to know more about her- why was she so unhappy, why did she claim she had no home, how did she really feel about Miles- and she made things happen. The novel was simply more interesting with her in it, because you never knew what she was going to do next. Having said this, I was also intrigued by the stages of grief that Miles and the Colonel went through, especially the former who had to face up to the reality that, despite the two of them kissing shortly before her death, Alaska never had any real feelings for him- she may have been attracted to him, but she loved her boyfriend and she wasn’t about to dump him and start dating Miles instead. Miles has to let go of his tragic, romantic fantasy and face reality- and his girlfriend.
Often the novel feels as though it’s trying too hard to be philosophical; Miles’ preoccupation with last words, for example, seems like an attempt on Green’s part to make the novel seem profound. Works of others are also often referenced, such as The General in His Labyrinth and Francois Rabelais’ ‘The Great Perhaps’, both of which are important motifs within the novel, which to me seems as though Green is just stringing together a bunch of other people’s ideas to make himself and his work seem deep and cultured- it just feels a bit pretentious. Surely it would have been more original for Green to come up with his own idea instead of borrowing so heavily from someone else’s?
Another criticism is that, at first at least, the narrator adopts too much of that self-conscious, overly descriptive, trying-to-be-witty, high school tone that I so despise; for example one of the first sentences reads “Although I was more or less forced to invite all my “school friends”, i.e. the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria of my public school, I knew they wouldn’t come“. It’s just too false- “social necessity” just screams “look at me, I’m an oh-so-relatable high school nobody!” and the use of “cavernous” to describe the cafeteria is just an unnecessary adjective.
Despite these annoying snags, overall Looking for Alaska is an absorbing and easy-to-read tale of first loves and first losses. The characters are varied and interesting and certain elements of the novel were actually, I felt, very realistic; for example, Miles and Lara dating each other simply because they’re vaguely attracted to each other and everyone else expects them to, despite a lack of any real chemistry. I also enjoyed the fact that Miles and Alaska didn’t have this dramatic, starry-eyed romance, rather, Miles simply loved her and even though barely anything happened between them, that’s enough to constitute a love story. What annoys me about most teen romances is that the two characters quickly become infatuated with each other, whereas Looking For Alaska is remarkably un-soppy. I enjoyed the fact that near the end of the novel Takumi, a friend of Miles, Alaska, the Colonel and Lara, revealed that he had also had feelings for Alaska- it meant that what Miles felt wasn’t unique, making the novel even less of a conventional love story. I felt it was more realistic in a way, and easier to relate to- the idea that high school is a time for Hollywood romances is an incredibly boring one.
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend Looking for Alaska to most teenage girls and hopeless romantics. It’s definitely aimed at females, I’d say, since it includes the more sentimental themes of love, loss and friendship, although I wouldn’t say that it would alienate a male audience in the same way that some teenage romances do. Is Looking for Alaska the most groundbreaking, intellectual book I’ve ever read? No. Is it enjoyable? Oh, yes.
Have YOU read Looking for Alaska? What did you think? Please let me know!
“At some point we all look up and realise we are lost in a maze.”- Dr Hyde