For The Someday Book

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

Posted on: March 5, 2015

Looking for Alaska by John Green, Dutton Books, New York, 2005, 221 pp.

Looking for AlaskaI have been wanting to see what all the hype is about with John Green. Many of the young people I know have been deeply touched by his books, and adults who have read them have also appreciated them. Now I know why. Looking for Alaska was a great read.

The narrator is Miles Halter, an intellectual high school student who loves to read biographies and memorize the last words of famous people. He convinces his caring parents to let him attend Culver Creek Academy, the same boarding school in Alabama that his father attended. There, he meets his roommate Chip, a scholarship student who goes by “The Colonel,” a Japanese student named Takumi, and, most importantly, Alaska Young, whom he describes as the sexiest girl he’s ever seen. Her room is filled with books, and she is the perfect combination of beauty, rebelliousness, and intellect, with a measure of crazy thrown in. He is christened as “Pudge,” an ironic moniker given his slender frame.

The foursome become fast friends, standing together against the rich, preppy “Weekday Warriors” and breaking all the rules. They experiment with sex, alcohol, cigarettes and defiance. They execute pranks, meet (and break up with) their first girlfriends and boyfriends, and study for classes. They are a charming bunch of misfits, and I loved them immediately, just like Pudge falls for Alaska.

However, tragedy disrupts this joyous journey through adolescence. A member of the group dies, and the rest of them blame themselves in various ways. The second half of the book deals with this guilt, with the sense of responsibility and the burden of grief.

One of the aspects of the book I most appreciated was the presentation of adults in the story. Much like adults in the Peanuts universe, adults in Looking for Alaska are a benign presence, but generally absent from the lives of the young characters. Miles’ parents are caring and kind, the wise headmaster and professor provide structure and rules without harshness or ego. Otherwise, the young people are left on their own to navigate their world. This is a refreshing approach.

What won me over most of all, though, was John Green’s clever and compassionate writing. There was humor and honesty, insight and reflection, all told in an approachable style. The characters spoke an openness that immediately endeared them to me, and I just wanted to keep hanging out with the gang and enjoying Green’s writing. I look forward to reading more.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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