Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

** spoiler alert ** I don’t really recap storylines in my reviews, there is a handy dandy non-spoiler description on any number of sites if that is what you are looking for. Also, I use parentheses a lot. A lot, a lot. I’m ok with that, you should be too.

I feel like I sort of missed this book as it was happening. Published in 2005, I was several years out of school and throwing myself into work, worried about looking like I had it all together at the ripe old age of 23. There was no time to worry about what books I may have been missing out on. There was overtime to be worked (have to show the boss I’m dedicated!), friends to prop up (oh the drama of our early twenties), experiences to be had (let’s pack as much as we can into every weekend!) and jokes to laugh at (this one still stands). So yeah, I missed this one. Completely. It wasn’t even on my radar.

In the short life of the Post Secret iPhone app – Rest in peace, little buddy, you are so so so missed – I was guilty of posting a non-secret that read, over a picture of sculpted abdominal muscles, “Know what’s sexier than this? A guy that can recommend books.” So much for anonymity, right?

I stand by that. It got many hearts (hearts being the equivalent of a Facebook “like” or a retweet on Twitter) and several replies. Within those replies were lots of book recommendations, some great, some not so much. Among those was a recommendation of John Green’s Looking for Alaska. It got lots of “OMG ME TOO!” and “MY FAVE!” type replies and that, in turn, left me doubting if it was any good. Sometimes I have to be pushed to read books that are popular amongst a large group because they’re usually not that great. But I ran over to Goodreads and read some reviews, most of which were fairly positive and didn’t seem to be written by people that only read Dan Brown novels simply because they were deemed cool. The fact that a lot of people listed it as YA gave me pause too. I’m going to be 30, after all. But the reviews were positive enough so it made its way to the bedside table in the high pile of Books To Be Read that never seems to dwindle.

So that’s how this little nugget ended up in my ‘To Read’ pile. I think it was good that I “missed” this book and only discovered it this year. The themes of living life, of searching for hope, wondering what it is we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, dealing with grief and unanswered questions of a life cut too short all mirror what the past year has been like in my life. It may have helped that this was my first foray into John Green too. I understand he has quite the following, verging on cultish, but as stated above, I missed the boat on that one.

Less plot-driven novel, more character study, I can see how this book would impact teenagers in one way and adults (though at 29 I still feel weird calling myself that) in another. To be honest, if I hadn’t dealt with a major loss and another near loss in my immediate family in the last 8 months, while struggling with major decisions like, oh, possibly moving across the country to start over somewhere new (my own Great Perhaps, perhaps?), the impact of this book may have lessened for me. But sometimes the right book falls into our lap at just the right time.

“…It was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes.” 

Well damn. If that wasn’t exactly what I needed to read.

I never got bored with it. That’s rare in a book that isn’t heavy on plot/storyline. It flowed easily and didn’t feel forced for the most part. Sure there were some things that felt a little heavy handed, but it’s a book, people. It’s easier to go with things than criticize every detail. It’s easier to accept that the kids are all near genius level, that their boarding school is more like a college, everyone has odd nicknames (except Alaska, funny enough) and sure! The Colonel can walk 80 miles round trip. Why not? There are the teenaged clichés of smoking, drinking, wreaking havoc for havoc’s sake.

Let me say this. I wasn’t overly attached to Alaska. I wasn’t heartbroken over her death. I didn’t really connect with her death if that makes any sense. What I connected with were the ones that were left behind. Suicide or accident. Will the friends left behind get the answers they needed? Does anyone ever really get the answers they need?

I lost my oldest brother in June, unexpectedly and without many answers, and maybe that’s why I GOT this book and felt the way I did as I completed it. I’ll never know if my brother stopped taking his medication knowing what the outcome would be. Pudge will never know if Alaska ended it all on purpose. But you cry your tears and you hope that, if there is an afterlife, they end up with their own personal peace. You work through the “if I had only…then maybe” guilt. Eventually…if you’re able…you forgive them for leaving.

Is it the presence of the ones we love or their absence that shapes us more? Green plays with that question throughout the second half of the book as we struggle alongside Pudge and Chip to gain what little information there is to gain and to try to make some sense of a tragedy that will never fully be explained.

I’m afraid to google to see if this is being made into a movie yet. It feels like it’s a popular enough book that some studio would get the rights to it. DO. NOT. WANT. The book is driven by the emotion and thought process of our dear boy Miles, and that won’t translate well to the screen, no matter how good of a screenplay may be written.

So yeah….it’s a book with a following, its intended for younger audiences, its about teenagers and their shenanigans and death and grief and all things that should be played out by now. But it’s not. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the read.

Thanks, Random Post Secret User, for the recommendation.

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