Thursday, November 20, 2014

Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska
John Green
Dutton, 2005  221 pgs.
Grades 9-12
Realistic Fiction

Miles begins his junior year of high school at a private boarding school in Alabama.  He meets his new roommate, a low in stature/high in personality, boy named the Colonel, who dubs him "Pudge" and introduces him to the world of smoking, drinking, and pranks.  Through the Colonel Pudge meets Alaska, a beautiful, yet emotionally complicated young woman, and Takumi, a fellow smoker and prankster.  The four form an immediate bond and experience the philosophical discussions, rivalry with the rich kids, struggles with homework and prank-planning involved in boarding school life.  Miles must take a religion course as a school requirement and though his teacher is decrepit and strict, he begins to think about the "Labyrinth of Life" and the "Great Perhaps".   Alaska fixes Pudge up with his first girl friend, Lara, and the year moves along at a rapid and happy pace.  Then after a night of drinking Miles and Alaska make-out, fulfilling Mile's dreams and leading to complications because of previous entanglements.  Before the ensuing drama can unfurl, something makes Alaska freak out, run out of her room in the middle of the night, calling for a distraction from Miles and the Colonel, and driving away drunk, when unforeseen tragedy strikes.  Miles and the Colonel must come to terms with Alaska's death and their part in it.  As the school year draws to a close, the boys discover what made Alaska run out of the room that night and start to find closure and healing.

Looking for Alaska, John Green's first novel, was awesome when it came out in 2005, winning the 2006 Printz medal for the best book for teenagers.  It is still awesome almost ten years later.  Pudge's journey is many teenager's fantasy: leaving your old life behind and going to boarding school with a fresh start and no parents around.  The first half of the book is fun, complete with romance and high-jinx.  We don't see Alaska's death coming and then WHAM!  After Alaska dies the tone of the book is very different and we experience Pudge's healing and maturing first-hand.  The second half of the book feels almost like a mystery as Pudge and the Colonel try to discern Alaska's motivation and absolving themselves of the guilt. Pudge, the Colonel, and Alaska are all very interesting characters and practically fly off the page.   Looking for Alaska has layers and  can be read on many levels.  There are philosophical and religious themes throughout the book which may lead the reader to delve deeper.  John Green is a hot commodity right now.  The Fault in our Stars was the big teen book of last year, staying popular into this year because of the release of the movie of the same name.  Now his book Papertowns is being made into a movie.  For my money, I think Looking for Alaska is his best book and would highly recommend it for high school students of both sexes.  Warning to parents: the book contains underage drinking, smoking, strong language, and adult themes, so be aware of this if its an issue for your teens.  If not, put this in the hands of teenagers and watch them begin to contemplate the "Great Perhaps".

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