Looking for Alaska by John Green

“Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”

– John Green, “Looking for Alaska”

Review:

Looking for Alaska is the second John Green book I’ve read this year. I finished Paper Towns last month. I would never have guessed this was his debut novel. And as much as I enjoyed both of his first young adult books, even though I’m no longer in the target audience, I don’t recommend reading John Green’s young adult literature in any kind of quick succession. The number one criticism of Green’s early books (think pre Turtles All the Way Down) is that they’re very similar. Green employees the same tropes – geeky and unpopular male protagonist, manic pixie mysterious dream girl, quest for meaning, sidekick best friend, etc). This criticism isn’t untrue. It would bother a great deal of people to read his books too closely together. But I wasn’t really bothered. Maybe that’s because I’m writing a young adult book of my own and I was fascinated by how Green wrote what he knew, took similar concepts, and created two best sellers that resonated strongly with thousands and continue to do so over a decade later. Maybe it’s because Green’s pretentious characters are a great mirror for how pretentious I was as a teenager. (I’m still pretentious. I’m not kidding myself.) Anyway, knowing full well the major complaints about this novel and the caution to not read too much Green at once (which I do pass on to you), I rowed on, full steam ahead.

Our story starts with Miles Halter and the lamest going away party on the planet. Miles is headed off to boarding school, where he seeks “a great perhaps”. Miles is obsessed with learning famous people’s last words. He’s overly skinny. He honestly doesn’t have much going for him. But, at least that means he won’t have much to miss while he’s away.

Once at Culver Creek, Miles is immediately renamed “Pudge” by his roommate, who calls himself “The Colonel”. It’s easy to forget the character’s actual names when they rarely reappear later in the story. The Colonel introduces Pudge to Alaska (no quotations). Pudge learns how to rebel in ways both small and large. He takes up smoking. He pulls pranks planned by his two new best friends. His great perhaps is perhaps unexpected, but not awful by any means.

Life is finally interesting and full of new friends. Pudge also befriends Takumi (from Japan) and gets a girlfriend, Lara (from Romania). Of course Pudge is actually in love with Alaska, but she’s irrevocably in love with her boyfriend, Jake. And it’s not awful. She’s stolen Pudge’s heart, but he can live with just being in her orbit. Or so he thinks.

Then, suddenly there’s only one person’s last words Pudge wants to know.

And he’ll never know them.

And he’ll never be the same.

Everything is messed up. And maybe Pudge is the one who messed everything up. Maybe it was The Colonel. Maybe it was Alaska. Maybe it was Takumi. Either way, it doesn’t change the end result. There’s no fixing this and there’s no solving the mystery of Alaska Young.

John Green’s books have plenty of flaws, for sure. But that, I think, is precisely what makes them so brilliant. What teenager isn’t flawed? What person isn’t flawed? There are a ton of shining moments in this story. I encourage you to read it, regardless of age.

An Abundance of Katherines is also on my list. Maybe I’ll read it next month.

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) 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.”

– John Green, “Looking for Alaska”

Pros:

  • This is just a fun book to read. And that’s nice.
  • The characters are extremely quirky and there’s no way you’ll get any of them mixed up.
  • The thoughts presented through Dr. Hyde’s class are very profound and will make you think, as will the included quotes and last words.
  • You’ll feel like an intellectual while reading.
  • Alaska Young is superior to Margot Roth Spiegelman.

Cons:

  • I felt like I needed a smoother transition to meeting the new characters at the Creek, but overall, I really don’t have any complaints or cons about this book. I recognize that this might be that they simply didn’t stick with me or that I’m a bit too much in love with John Green’s brain.

Rating:

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“We are all going, I thought, and it applies to turtles and turtlenecks, Alaska the girl and Alaska the place, because nothing can last, not even the earth itself. The Buddha said that suffering was caused by desire, we’d learned, and that the cessation of desire meant the cessation of suffering. When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall apart, you’d stop suffering when they did.”

– John Green, “Looking for Alaska”

Recommended For:

  • teenagers
  • anyone looking for their great perhaps
  • anyone who has ever wondered about why we suffer and how to lessen the pain of suffering
  • fans of John Green’s other books
  • those who discovered John Green through The Anthropocene Reviewed and wonder how he got his start

Books to Read if You Loved Looking for Alaska:

  • Paper Towns by John Green (same author) (Click the link to see my review!)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • What does it mean to be present in every moment of your life? Is it possible to do that?
  • Alaska loves these two lines from the poet W. C. Auden: “You shall love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart.” What do these lines mean to you and why do you think Alaska likes them so much?
  • How did the use of quotes and last words add to the gravity of the novel?

2 responses to “Looking for Alaska by John Green”

  1. I have a soft spot for John Green’s YA novels. The first I read was “The Fault in Our Stars”, but TBH, I like that one the least. I like “Paper Towns” the most because I’m a map geek with a geography degree and an obsession with road trips… so I might be one of only a few people who knew what a paper town was before I even picked up the book. Plus? SO MANY GOOD QUOTES! But “Looking For Alaska” broke my dang heart. I remember crying when I read it. It was a more cathartic cry than with AFiOS, too, because you UGLY CRY with that one. With LfA, you cry because it’s just so effing TRAGIC.

    (@margolilibetblossom from Insta)

    Like

    • Absolutely! I’ll always be in love with John Green. And Hank Green. And both their wives. I need to go back and reread The Fault in Our Stars now that I’ve read The Anthropocene Reviewed and understand where JG’s chaplain experience comes into how he saw the novel. I started the book about 7 or 8 years ago and Hazel Grace was so pretentious that I couldn’t finish it. I think maybe it was just the wrong time for me to read that book.

      Like

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