Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green (SPOILERS)

I’m a big fan of John Green and his work, and this is the third of his books I’ve checked out (click on the “John Green” tag for reviews of the others).

The novel follows Miles, a shy awkward teenager who is obsessed with learning famous people’s last words. He moves away to boarding school, where his rake thin body earns him the nickname Pudge and he starts to make friends. These include his new roommate “the Colonel”, king of pranks and Alaska, who he quickly develops a crush on.

With the book divided into two sections, “Before” and “After”, the reader is aware that we’re building towards some major event which will leave a mark on Miles and co. The first section sees Miles starting to get more comfortable with his new friends and surroundings, joining a war of tit-for-tat pranking and getting his first girlfriend in Romanian student Lara.

Despite this he remains oddly drawn to Alaska, who attracts and frustrates him equally due to her willfully mysterious, mood-swinging personality.

looking for alaska

However, at the end of the first half she takes off in her car while drunk and crashes. Her death leaves Pudge and the Colonel reeling, and guilty, having helped her sneak away in her car. The Colonel becomes obsessed with working out whether her death was an accident or a suicide, and Pudge is dragged along in the investigation, while also becoming obsessed with the idealized memory of Alaska he has.

I really dug this book, as it has Green’s trademark style for balancing the humorous and serious brilliantly, even in the book’s darker, heavier sections there are nice one-liners and wit. There’s a fantastically awkward, funny moment between Pudge and his first girlfriend, and I smiled frequently while reading it.

Green’s writing is glorious and inventive, and while it’s miles away from how really teenagers talk it works for me, and fits the world Green creates in his books, where everyone seems smarter and more articulate than they are in reality.

What I really liked about it was that it really got to the heart of showing how people deal with grief. Pudge shuts down, and almost revels in it, while the Colonel’s need for answers suits his character completely.

My one problem with the book was the eponymous character herself, and I couldn’t see why, aside from her beauty, Pudge falls so hard for Alaska. Yes, she has confidence and character, but her moody nature and moment of self-pity would have put me right off and as a reader I found her irritating in the extreme. I think this is what Green is trying to do, as it highlight’s how Pudge builds up this false image of her and what the future might have held, while the other characters never forget her flaws. Intentional or not, the character still bugged me, which makes it all the more impressive that her death and it’s fallout would move me.

Green is patient with his protagonist, there are times when Pudge is a douche, when his moping over his edited Alaska grates, but he’s aware that he’s doing it, and Green’s writing allows us to see why it’s hit him so hard and, as time passes, how he’s getting more realistic and back to normal.

There’s a lot of philosophy stuff about life’s struggle and death, but Green manages to keep it the right side of pretentious, apart from when it’s intentionally so and I found it a wonderful and moving read.

Verdict: Masterfully written and entertaining, Green continues to impress with his skill as a writer of teenage characters and handling shifts in tone delicately. At times it frustrated me, but I think it was meant to be that way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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