Allison's Book Bag

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Posted on: March 11, 2014

Looking for Alaska is intense. Following the death of a friend, sixteen-year-old Miles finds himself facing challenging first-time experiences when he decides to leave home to attend boarding school in Alabama. The story, by John Green, confronts life’s big questions head on.  I don’t agree with all of Green’s beliefs, but I appreciate the thought that he puts into their examination.

In some ways, Looking for Alaska covers familiar ground. For example, Miles discovers smoking, drinking, and sexual tension at Culver Creek Boarding School. Sounds like your average teen movie, doesn’t it? However, Green presents these experiences far more realistically than most films. For example, Miles gags the first time he tries to smoke, pukes the first time he tries a new drink, and fumbles his way through his first sexual flirtations.

The division between rich and poor kids is also typical of the adolescent genre, but Green places Miles in the middle rather than at either extreme. Miles’s experiences come across as intense partly because of their realistic portrayal and partly because the novel’s young characters are far more mature than were my high school friends. Looking for Alaska was published less than ten years ago, in 2005, which is no doubt a factor. Or it might just be the boarding school setting. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this matters.

At any rate, while Looking for Alaska does cover some familiar ground, it’s also about how the different cliques play pranks on one another and abide by one rule: IF CAUGHT, DO NOT RAT. However, the school year starts with two rich kids being expelled, because someone told on them for having a sexual relationship at school. And that someone could be one of Miles’s new friends, which immediately puts him on the side of being bullied.

But there are other issues at stake too. Miles’s roommate grew up in a trailer park—hence, his hatred of snobs. There’s the decision to NOT call a truce in the prank war. And Miles’s friend Alaska—yes, the “Alaska” of the title—harbors a dark childhood secret that seems to shadow every contradictory and impulsive decision she makes.

One of my absolute favorite moments in Looking for Alaska comes during a drinking party, where each of the friends reveals their best and worst moments. In the middle of some funny and tender dialog, there are some heart-wrenching revelations.

The further I got into Looking for Alaska, the more intense it became. Miles tells his parents that he wants to attend Culver because he’s seeking a “Great Perhaps”. Except for his discussions about religion class, however, this quest would be easy to forget. After all, rather than seek anything, Miles ditches classes, sneaks around campus at night, plays pranks—and, of course, tries to avoid getting caught. Along the way, though, Miles is also starting to have questions about the best way to handle bullies, defend friends, and handle romance.

And then there’s Alaska. One day she’s acting like his best friend and the next she’s telling him to just deal with life. She’s is a mystery to Miles, and perhaps even to herself. She lives life to the fullest but also says that her reason for smoking is that she wants to die. By the middle of Looking for Alaska, Miles’s questions about the meaning of life are at the forefront, which makes for a gripping and emotional read.

Looking for Alaska isn’t for everyone. Morally, it will offend some audiences. It includes a lot of swear words. Smoking is second-nature to the characters. There is a scene in which Miles and Alaska discover alcohol stashes in many of the students’ rooms. Finally, although discreetly handled, Miles and his girlfriend have oral sex. But Green’s goal is not to titillate young readers or shock their parents. He raises complex, serious questions, and ultimately this is what won me over. Green shows such incredible respect for his teen audience that I understand why Looking for Alaska not only won critical awards but has also become a best seller.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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