'...if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.'
Looking for Alaska by John Green is a confronting young adult novel that focuses on the complexities of emotion, ignorance and naivety that adolescents battle through during their transition from childhood to adulthood. Although written in a light-hearted and occasionally humorous tone, there are underlying themes that are dark and serious, emphasising this transition and the troubles that teenagers have with dealing with it.
Culver Creek Boarding School, Alabama, is the setting for this YA novel. We are shoved right into the thick of 'coming of age' teenagers who are battling through assignments and self-discovery. The protagonist Miles, later known as 'Pudge', sets for the boarding school to find his 'Great Perhaps', his inspiration lying with the last words of well-known figures. His mission to attain his 'Great Perhaps' urges him to try new things, which is how the story takes off.
Miles meets Chip, otherwise known as 'The Colonel', Takumi, Lara and Alaska Young (ooooh, do I see a link between the book title and a character's name?). They break the rules, like smoking and drinking alcohol on the grounds, and the 'Great Perhaps' seems to draw closer for Miles as he quickly becomes interested in Alaska and her unusual behaviour and attitude.
It all goes a little pear-shaped after Miles is 'welcomed' to Culver Creek by a few of the other students. They perform an initiation that new students go through... but this time with a dangerous twist. Being thrown into a lake with not a lot of clothes on is one thing. Having your limbs duct-taped to your body, getting thrown into the lake and discovering your roommate's shoes have been urinated in is another.
This begins the back and forth pranks between the groups, and so to begins the rises and falls of the plot line. Why risk drowning someone in the lake to begin with? Culver Creek don't like people who dob on others, and rumour has it that Chip has dobbed in some people who were expelled.
Something to notice in this book. Each section is separated by a countdown of days. It feeds the anticipation of the reader. What could that countdown be for? As the number decreases, you can feel the build up. What could it be? What could it be?
The group of friends get up to a lot of mischief, although they still make sure they study hard to achieve good grades. Miles finds himself romantically involved with Lara, going through the awkwardness of discovering what real intimacy is. However, Miles is still in awe of Alaska... drizzles and hurricanes, as mentioned before. And the countdown continues with so many situations and events happening that it could be for anything.
Then you hit 0, and it's not at all what you expect... and I'm not giving it away.
The group finds themselves in a very difficult position. What has happened shakes them to the core, and hollowness and guilt tear into them. An incessant 'why?' reverberates through their actions as they look at every possible reason as they piece together what happened. Resentment starts to show. Anger. Frustration. All of those ugly synonymous feelings build.
Although things for them will never be the same, there is a turning point. The characters begin to grow, and soon they determine what to do that will commemorate what has happened. The prank of all pranks, the one that will always be remembered.
A journey of finding the 'Great Perhaps' and escaping the labyrinth of suffering, Looking for Alaska shows how people cope with tragedy, grief and loss. What exactly is lost is for you to read and find out.
What I thought
Nothing quite feels or reads like John Green's YA books. Although there are many cheesy one-liners like the one above, they all tend to focus on relatable issues for adolescents who are wading through the awkward transition of childhood to adulthood.
I'll be honest, I've owned this book for a while and I had never been able to get much further than half way until now. That might make you think that I disliked this. However, I did not. It was quite a nice story to read, which might sound strange to you if you have already read it since it is an emotional story. I liked it because it was easy to read. A book I could sit back on an armchair and read and be done by the end of the day. Why I hadn't done that before, I'm not sure.
It has a bit of a slow start. The one thing that urges you on is the countdown. There's a lot of clichéd friendships and some deep conversations that, to me, did not seem overly believable. However, once the countdown is over and the event happens was when I really felt like I was in the story, like I could believe it. Not saying the stuff beforehand isn't enjoyable. I did have a good laugh at a few of the humorous moments because they exude such awkward adolescence.
Once the event happens, the feelings that Miles goes through and the reactions of the characters feels so authentic. Also, the fact that the ending isn't all sunflowers and daisies impressed me. I like that things didn't magically fall back into place, but things did get somewhat better. It's a bit refreshing to get a realistic ending in a YA novel. It shows that not everything ends like you want it to.
I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting and easy read. It is quite refreshing in a weird way. So, as long as you're aware they're are some gooey, clichéd moments, then you'll probably feel the same way (hopefully!). I'd also recommend this to the audience it is designed for: young adults.
Overall, I thought it was a well-written and pleasant story. It shocked me with it's twist and I did get a little bit emotional. All in all, I finished it with a happy feeling in my gut... so that's a positive!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.