Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

LOOKING FOR ALASKA COVER

*MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS*

Miles Halter wishes to escape his boring life, to go and seek the “great perhaps”, to find something new. This is how he convinces his parents to send him to Culver Creek Preparatory School, the same boarding school that his father attended in his youth. Leaving Florida and moving to Alabama is a huge change for Miles, though he is intent on doing it. Miles loves reading about the last words of people, and has a lot memorised. Moving into his new dorm room, he meets his roommate, Chip Martin, whom everyone calls the Colonel. The Colonel is short, sharp witted, smart, and definitely has his own way of doing things. He promptly renames Miles to “Pudge”, to be ironic about Pudge’s super skinniness, and introduces Pudge to Alaska Young, an emotionally unstable yet stunning girl whom Pudge is immediately taken with. Through the two Pudge also meets Takumi Hikohito, a student of Japanese descent. Soon after arriving at Culver Creek, Pudge is abducted by a few “Weekday Warriors”, the students who attend Culver Creek during the week but go home over the weekends. He is duct taped and thrown into the lake, and manages to get himself out. When the Colonel hears what happened, hears that it was not the standard strip and dip, he swears vengeance.

School is going well for Pudge, though the boy he was when he arrived is certainly not the same as he is now. Picking up a few tricks from his new group, Pudge is now smoking, but he will not really consent to the drinking side. It seems that the Weekday Warriors are convinced that the Colonel is responsible for the expulsion of their friends Paul and Marya at the end of the previous year. The Colonel wants to get to the bottom of who is truly responsible. The Colonel and Alaska are renowned for their brilliant pranks, and this years seems to be no exception to the rule. Mr Starnes is the dean of the school, and is called the Eagle. Alaska sets Pudge up with a pretty Romanian girl named Lara Buterskaya, though their first date certainly does not go as planned, and ends on a highly embarrassing note for Pudge when he retches in her lap after getting a concussion. When the Thanksgiving holidays comes up, Pudge and Alaska are the only two students left at school, and they drink, smoke, and explore together. Pudge officially falls in love with her, no longer caring about her attitude and dismal mood swings, he doesn’t even care about her boyfriend, either. The Colonel fetches the two for dinner at his home with his mother on Thanksgiving, and Pudge sees that the Colonel hates the Weekday Warriors for a reason. He really comes from nothing, living in a trailer park with his mother, though there is no trace of embarrassment from his side, he loves her, and would do anything for her.

Planning for the big prank against the Weekday Warriors to get even for what has been happening at school, the Colonel, Alaska, Lara, Pudge, and Takumi all get together for a pre-prank, the prank designed to lull the Weekday Warriors into a sense of peace. Over the weekend that it happens, the group camps out in the woods, smoking, drinking, and pulling off their great plan, which goes successfully. While there, Pudge starts dating Lara, and the group shares the memories of the best and worst days of their lives. Alaska finally shares the last memory she has of her mother, as well as the worst memory of the next day, where her mother had an aneurysm, and Alaska sat with her dead mother instead of having called 911. Pudge finally understands why Alaska is the way she is. Returning to school with the prank completed, the Colonel and Alaska spend every night that week drinking in celebration. On the last night, Pudge joins them. In a drunken state he and Alaska kiss each other at the behest of a drunken dare from Alaska, completely without consideration for their partners. In the middle of the night she freaks out and demands to leave, making Pudge and the Colonel implicit in the plans to distract the Eagle so that she can take her car and leave. They do this, and the next morning receive the devastating news that Alaska was killed in a car accident. Ravaged by feelings of guilt and resentment, Pudge and the Colonel start investigating Alaska’s death, as well as what prompted her to get that hysterical that late at night and want to leave so desperately.

Why did Alaska freak out in the early hours of the morning? Was there anything that Pudge and the Colonel could have done to have stopped the impulsive Alaska even if they had tried? Will life ever go back to normal for them? Will their friendship survive their devastating loss? Will Pudge ever get over the dream image of Alaska he has created in his mind? Will the school find a way to work past what happened? Will the investigation that Pudge and the Colonel have started ever lead to anything? Will they get closure the more they dig, or only open up fresh wounds?

GRADE 7.5This was a pretty good read, though it was rather heavy. Starting with something as mundane as a kid who just wants to be somewhere else, the plot snowballs into something where Miles discovers himself, makes friends, and learns about the world. From the minute that he meets the Colonel at school, things are different. I thought their friendship was hilarious at the best of times. The Colonel was a really cool character, who was multi-layered and had a lot more to offer than what you would expect on a rough first inspection. Another thing I liked was how it was targeted that just because these kids smoked and drank, did not mean they were retarded stupid or lacking or anything like that, which is a societal issue I have just never understood. These kids were smart and driven, though they were cheeky, lost, and broken. They lived life, they didn’t just watch it pass by. That was important for me. Not everything was necessarily realistic in here, but still well worth the read. Alaska was a bitch, but it was never alluded to that she was not, or that she was perfect. It was realistic that Pudge, too, could become irritated by her and find her melodramatic, not just the image of perfection that he initially had of her in her mind. The Old Man was an exceptional teacher, and I had a lot of respect for him. The book’s layout was cool too. The whole before and after thing was unique, showing clearly how one event can impact a person’s whole life, change everything as they know it. It was intense getting past that, though I had worked out early on why Alaska was in the mood she was in on the night in question. There were moments to laugh in this book and others to make you think. This book felt a bit darker than the others that I have read up until now. Not because the other’s didn’t address serious issues or anything like that, just because this one was tackling a totally different question altogether, a completely different experience, and took on a much darker edge because of it. I have said it before and I will say it again, John Green is an exceptional writer. This is just another one of his books that I could highly recommend.

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11 thoughts on “Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

  1. Carole Besharah says:

    Hey Zoe,

    You summarized the book quite well. I read it about seven years ago and your description cleared up some questions I had. Thank you. Yesterday, John Green tweeted that the FABULOUS Sara Polley will be directing the film adaptation of this book. Yay!

    I would refrain, though, of using the derogatory word ‘retarded’ in your reviews. It,s not well-regarded in North America.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • Zoë says:

      Hi Carole!

      Thanks for dropping by, and for your words! I am I could have been of some assistance! Oh cool, I had no idea that they were going to adapt this for film.

      I am sorry, I did not mean to offend. It was not meant in a sense like that at all!

      Like

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