This year marks ten years since John Green- the hot shot of contemporary young adult literature- released his debut novel, “Looking For Alaska.” While most people will hear his name now and associate him with his highly praised 2012 release “The Fault in Our Stars” and/or as one half of the vlogbrothers YouTube channel, Green started making his name as an author when he released this novel that’s partly inspired by his own experiences as a youth.
Miles “Pudge” Halter, a high schooler who feels like he’s been living anything but life in his native Florida, starts attending a boarding school in Alabama, carrying not only a desire to seek the “Great Perhaps” (taken from poet Francois Rabelais) but also an obsession with memorizing the final words of famous dead people. There he makes the most unlikely of friends, but that description especially hones to Alaska Young; a feisty, fire-driven girl who takes more than Pudge’s breath away. Together, the group of friends go about mischief, crazy- and sometimes drunken- adventures, which eventually leads up to the events of “the last day.” From there, Pudge, his world, and the Great Perhaps he so willingly chased after before, changes forever.
This was the first book I read by Green. After hearing his name tossed around the past few years and watching his videos on YouTube, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to finally give the man a try. I went into “Looking For Alaska” with ultimately zero expectations aside from what’s explained in the synopsis, and finished it the other night with mixed feelings about it.
I can’t say that I fell in love with it, because I wasn’t exactly feeling it in that way. The whole context felt very rocky with random attempts at living as rebellious of a life as possible, intermixed with philosophical talks that, often times, don’t even reach young people’s ears until they’re at least in college. Green was accurate in portraying these characters with sneaking out and drinking, smoking, and sharing the dark stories of their past. While that’s not at all relatable to my time as a teenager, it may be for the teenager out there who performs similar acts to reach the truer depths of their soul- and if not that then just to escape from real time without dying. I just don’t like the way Green went about those scenes at incredibly random motifs and pacing. One minute Pudge is in his religions class, trying to soak in as much of the lecture as he can; the next minute he’s smoking with a careful eye. The book felt “scattered” in that sense.
In addition, I didn’t like how Green built up to the major plot twist. It took only a few sentences shortly before that for me to realize exactly what was about to happen. Up until that point, he already did a good job at concealing it as best he could, but it took those few sentences to completely give away the plot twist to me before it even happened. That could have been executed a lot better; perhaps in a more ambiguous way if anything.
It was the philosophical talks and thoughts exchanged between the characters that caught my attention. It’s uncommon for teenagers to talk about such deep subjects on a regular basis; such as life, destiny, death, and- in Pudge’s case- the meaning behind the last lines of famous dead people. In an exchange between Pudge and Alaska, she at one point says to him, “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” It’s moments like this that resonated with me, and it’s with that that I have a better understanding as to why Green’s novels resonate well with teenage intellectuals.
On a five-star scale, I would give “Looking For Alaska” three stars. It was a rocky novel that I thought could have been improved upon in several ways, but I don’t hold Green against this. After all, this was his debut novel. At the end of the day, I still have to give him credit for shedding light on the “labyrinth” we’re all constantly wandering in, and about the “Great Perhaps” only so few ponder about.