Thursday 6 October 2011

REVIEW - 'Looking For Alaska', John Green (Harper Collins UK, 2005)

Quiet outsider Miles Halter gets his wish of being transferred to the exclusive, unconventional boarding school, Culver Creek in order to seek out the 'Great Perhaps'. There, he falls under the spell of the equally unconventional Alaska Young...

This is my second encounter with John Green. Last year I picked a copy of 'Will Grayson Will Grayson' (collaboration with David Levithan) off the library shelf and thought it was bloody amazing  - a touch on the schmaltzy side, yes, but it had a feel good ending to beat all others. And it was intelligent, it didn't preach, it didn't patronise. I loved it.

Ok, I'll stop writing about that book and start writing about this book. Needless to say I had high expectations. And for the most part, they were met. Our narrator, Miles, or 'Pudge', as his is christened by his new best friends, it a good narrator - a reliable observer on a steep learning curve with plenty of 'firsts' to experience and plenty of questions to ask. He is likable and ever so slightly on the right side of annoying.

The structure is very clever and introduces an element of mystery - the first half leads up to the pivotal event of the book and the last half depicts the emotional aftermath. The pace doesn't sag and the whole thing kept me guessing (or am I just being a bit thick?). Yep, it ticks all the boxes so far...

HOWEVER, as with WGWG, these teenagers have a touch of the Dawson's Creeks about them - wordy, precocious, a bit....well, irritating, if I'm honest. This sort of pontificating just doesn't ring true as a teen experience for me. I found it very difficult to sympathise with Alaska, for instance, even after her back story is revealed. I'm pretty sure if I went to school with such an attention-seeking little madam then I would have avoided her like the plague. Consequently, I didn't really feel very emotionally involved with the story or most of these characters. For me this prevented a good book becoming a great book.

Right up until the last few pages I was bracing myself for a monumental anti-climax - I just couldn't see where the story could really go. But the last little nugget is brilliant - just keep reading, please. I think this is a book that would definitely benefit from a second read - not because I completely adored it and my life would not be complete without it, but because I think this is a case of the my personal enjoyment of the story improving with a better understanding of it - there are so many themes going on here, that I didn't really feel  their emotional whack until these final paragraphs.

Great writing, great plot, it just didn't grab me in the way I hoped it would. (But maybe it will in the future?)

Can I just mention the cover? I was reading the Harper Collins UK edition and I just loved it. I've discovered I'm a bit superficial when it comes to the packaging but this one is just PERFECT.


  1. Hmm. I can see what you're saying about the teenagers being Dawson's Creek-ish and it is so true that if Alaska were a student at my boarding school (*mini-daydream about going to boarding school..*) I'd have completely avoided her as well, but when I read the book I didn't have any of those thoughts or concerns and completely got lost in the story. I'm sorry that you didn't love this one as much as I did .. will you be readng John Green's other books? I loved them all :)

  2. I've got a copy of Paper Towns waiting to be read - I adored Will Grayson Will Grayson, even though I felt the ending was just a bit OTT!

  3. This is the only John Green book I haven't read yet! I keep meaning to :)
    I loved Paper Towns though, it's such a gorgeous/funny book.
    Great review Anna!

    (I agree with the ending of WG,WG... haha)

  4. Cheers Jo! Yes, ending so WGWG - serious cheese overload