Book Recommendation: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Book Recommendation: Looking for Alaska by John Green

You’ve probably noticed that today, January 10th, 2015,  the Internet is flooded with quotes from someone by the name of Alaska Young. Some of you have probably even searched for tags related to the young-adult novel, Looking for Alaska, and the poetically tragic character created by author John Green. Now, if you are part of the former, and are curious as to why people are referencing this fictional teenage girl, I’ll try my best not spoil any of the book for you; I’ll write only about the “Before.”

Looking for Alaska starts off 136 days before something. What? The reader doesn’t know. We begin with the POV character and main protagonist in this story, Miles “Pudge” Halter. Pudge lives in Florida, but is getting ready to head off to Culver Creek Prep High School in Alabama. He is a skinny (yes, his nickname is supposed to be ironic) outcast, and him choosing to attend this boarding school is his way of “going to seek the great perhaps.” In other words, Pudge’s life wasn’t great where he was. He had no friends, and would just watch TV with his parents, read biographies of famous writers, and memorize last words. Why dwell on what could perhaps be when you can go find out for yourself?

At Culver Creek, Pudge becomes best friends with his roommate, Chip Martinp; otherwise known as, the Colonel. Before I go on, I must say the Colonel is absolutely my favorite character in this novel. He’s extremely intelligent and very funny. The Colonel is only about five feet tall and is constantly coming up with clever schemes and pranks against the dean of the school, The Eagle, and the click of rich prep school kids known as the Weekend Warriors.

Pudge’s makes some other friends at Culver Creeks as well: Takumi, Lara, and of course, Alaska. Takumi is a loyal friend and is decently talented at free-styling, and Lara is a Romanian student who actually becomes Pudge’s girlfriend for a portion of the story. They are close with Pudge and the Colonel but we don’t get to know them quite as well as we do Alaska. Alaska Young is an emotionally unstable, yet beautiful and deep young woman. She’s sometimes temperamental, and often misunderstood. Throughout the course of the “before,” Pudge becomes infatuated by Alaska and his feelings for her never waiver even while he’s dating Lara. This is not to say Pudge and Alaska didn’t have their problems. Alaska has a boyfriend throughout the story and can never seem to make up her mind whether she has feelings for Pudge or not. She’s super moody, and as a reader, I found myself getting a little pissed off at some of the ways she’d lead him on; however, in the end, Alaska’s influence on Pudge’s life is positive.

Looking for Alaska can be broken down into two distinct parts. The “before” leads up to the climax of our story here. This section of the book is full of intricate pranking, deep conversations with intelligent teens, hysterical antics from the Colonel, and the emotional rollercoaster that is Pudge and Alaska’s relationship. I think Pudge described it best himself; “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” In the “after” portion of the book, a somber mystery unfolds in front of us as we see characters continue to develop (No spoilers. That’s all I’ll say about the “after”).

John Green just gets it, man. His Internet presence unmatched which is extremely important for his particular audience. He always delivers when it comes to young adult literature, and in my opinion, no one writes with a stronger voice for teens than anyone around today. Most readers today still read young adult literature whether it is exclusively or just on occasion. Everyone can relate to it because everyone has been there or is currently going through a similar range of emotions. It’s a time when anything seems possible and where there is plenty of room to grow. It’s also a time when small scale problems are framed larger in the scope of things. All of these elements contribute to making young adult fiction so entertaining.

“When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska  won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award, and thanks in part to another YA novel of his, spent about 385 weeks on the New York Times’ best seller list nearly 7 years after its release. Looking for Alaska is a beautiful coming of age story with some darker undertones. It’s sad, exciting, hilarious, and profound. There were times I couldn’t put it down, and times where it kicked me in the gut. If you haven’t figured out what comes “after,” you will about 130 pages in; and if you’ve already read Looking for Alaska, then you know why today is a good day to pick it back up.

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