Archive for November, 2010

So I reviewed this a while ago.


Looking for Alaska a brilliantly thoughtful debut novel by young American author John Green, it is a novel about teenagers; it discusses what they are really thinking and asking. It has been labelled ‘controversial’ by a society in denial, a society that does not want to hear what teens actually think and feel. One of the main recurring themes in the novel is overcoming suffering. In the following paragraphs I will discuss the author’s use of method, structure, tone, characterisation and figurative language.

The story begins One Hundred and Thirty-six Days Before; we meet the protagonist Miles Halter (aka Pudge, it’s funny because he’s skinny) a quirky teen so disconnected from other people that out of “social necessity” he sits with “a ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks.” After his mother throws him a birthday party and nobody shows up he convinces his parents to let him go to Culver Creek, a boarding school his father attended. Thus begins his journey in search of “A Great Perhaps”.

Miles delivers a thoughtful first person narrative about the lives of teenagers, unlike The Catcher in The Rye’s; Holden Caulfield, Miles Halter is not full of shit and he has a bitter-sweet reflective story to narrate.

‘But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. 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.’ –pg109

Looking for Alaska is broken into two distinct halves; before and after. The novel being structured this way is very engaging to a reader. These distinct halves revolve entirely around a life altering event toward the end of the book.
The first half of the book is quite light hearted, the main characters Miles, Colonel, Takumi and Lara are all getting to know each other and developing friendships, most of which revolve around larger than life character Alaska; a ‘clever, funny, self-destructive and dead sexy’ girl.
Together they plan massive pranks on the schools headmaster (the Eagle) and generally cause mayhem. They sneak off to smoke a thousand cigarettes, they get drunk, they beat box and get philosophical.
Then that pivotal life changing tragedy occurs and the novel takes a sad, disheartening tone as Pudge & Co. become disconnected amongst themselves as they try to deal with all the feelings heaved upon them.
Pudge withdraws into himself as he is completely overwhelmed. But as he and his friends keep moving and grieving and trying to understand the meaning of certain experiences. Pudge learns to appreciate those who are still with him rather than losing them too.
I believe that the novel ended with a hopeful positive tone, where Pudge gains a deeper understanding of life, love, true friends and self confidence.

‘We met and I held him, my hands balled into tight fists around his shoulders, and he wrapped his short arms around me and squeezed so tight so that I felt the heaves of his chest as we realised over and over again that we were still alive. I realised it in waves and we held on to each other crying and I thought, God we must look so lame, but it doesn’t matter much when you have just now realised, all the time later, that you are still alive.’ – pg254

Another factor, contributing to the success of this novel is the dynamically real cast of characters, which John Green has expertly created. Each character is so realistically quirky and all are from surprisingly different backgrounds. The most amazing thing about these characters is that nothing is unbelievable; they could all be actual people. For example;

Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter is tall, skinny and disconnected from people his age (at the beginning of the novel) ‘I never really excelled at small talk.’ He is fascinated by the last words of famous dead people.
Alaska Young is a wild, mysterious, self destructive girl who has a ridiculously large collection of books called her life library, she is continually adding to the pile in hope of reading them all when she is old and has nothing better to do.
Chip ‘The Colonel’ Martin is Pudge’s roommate, his father was an abusive alcoholic and his mother raised him alone in a trailer. He is a disadvantaged student on a scholarship program. He is obsessed with loyalty and honor.
Takumi Hikohito is a Japanese American who is always rapping with wicked slick rhymes randomly. One of the funniest things involving Takumi is the fox hat.

“What the hell is that?” I laughed.
“It’s my fox hat.”
“Your fox hat?”
“Yeah, Pudge. My fox hat.”
“Why are you wearing your fox hat?” I asked.
“Because no one can catch the motherfucking fox.”

Lara Buterskaya a Romanian student who has a brief stint at being Pudge’s girlfriend. A very memorable ‘blow job’

Looking for Alaska is also filled with figurative language, beautiful metaphors ‘if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane’ and countless literary allusions all interwoven thought out the text. For example the Colonels exclamation‘God I understand whale anatomy. Can we move on now Herman?’
The two most recurring allusions in the novel are Francois Rabelais’- ‘The Great Perhaps’ and Simón Bolívar’s –‘How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?’ Both of these literary allusions make the reader question the motivation of the characters and the meaning of their own lives throughout the book.

Looking for Alaska is an important novel as it deals with many issues youth of today must face. It is an inspired piece about overcoming suffering and grief about friendship and loss and choices we must inevitably make. It is about discovering who we are and who we can become. It is hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad.

In the words of Pudge ‘After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out – but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.’

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