'So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.'
- John Green, Looking for Alaska.
- John Green, Looking for Alaska.
'Looking for Alaska', being, rather fittingly, John Green's debut novel, was the first of his books I'd ever read; it follows Miles 'Pudge' Halter as he embarks upon a journey to Culver Creek Boarding School, in a bid to leave behind his seventeen dull years at home, and begin seeking the 'Great Perhaps' (the last words of François Rabelais, poet - Miles has a strange kind of love for famous last words).
Miles gets much more than he bargained for, however, when he meets his new roommate, referred to by most only as 'The Colonel', and friends - a slightly wayward band of teenagers, intent on keeping life at Culver Creek far from boring - at the center of which, stands Alaska Young. Beautiful, destructive, unpredictable, Alaska Young - who soon steals Miles' heart.
But then, suddenly, startlingly, life at Culver Creek is turned on its head, and nothing seems as though it will be the same again.
The story was, initially, a bit of a slow burner, for me; split into two sections, 'Looking for Alaska' invests a lot more in setting up the characters, relationships, than most similar novels, and, being a 'Young Adult' book, it's not necessarily groundbreaking for the first few chapters, as a tale of minor teenage rebellion; but, slowly, they sneak up on you, and you find yourself immersed in the world of Culver Creek, feeling part of the group, getting to know them at the pace which Miles does.
John Green has made no secret of the fact that he believes firmly that the suspense of foreshadowing trumps the shock of surprise every time, and I have to say, I was much in agreement as I began the nearing the end of the first part (ominously titled 'before').
The narrative is smooth, cohesive, and easy-to-follow, but it's nowhere near comprehensive; we see every event through the eyes of 'Pudge', and he is about as far from unbiased as a character can be - a teenage boy, blinded by love, telling the story of events which unfold in a disjointed, harrowingly unfair way - whilst the writing is excellent, with a plot that's painfully well-delivered, at no point, even when the book's been read, added to your bookshelf, lent out to friends, does it feel as if you know the full story of those fateful events at Culver Creek, as if you'll ever truly understand what happened, and why.
John Green really does leave the story of Miles, his love for Alaska, the friendships and hardships, loves and heartaches, humour and misery open to interpretation, and, just as the reader is left with far too many questions, it could be easy to assume that he's not too sure of the answers, himself.
'Looking for Alaska' isn't necessarily a complex book, but it is a deep one, and I firmly believe that it spans, like most of Green's books, far beyond the 'Young Adult' demographic - although it might take a while to get into, if, like me, you don't have much patience for tales of teenage rebellion, it's worth sticking with, and I honestly don't think you'll find it too difficult to reach the end with surprising speed.
This review was written by regular reviewer Francesca, get to know her here.
Photo © Francesca Sophia.