John Green is an author that most young adults are familiar with — many regular adults, as well. His “The Fault in Our Stars” was a sensation a few years ago, and I read it and loved it, although I’m not exactly a young adult anymore. I always thought I’d enjoy reading more of his books, and so I picked up “Looking for Alaska” recently, spurred on by our trip to Alaska. Note that if you’re reading this book due to some affinity for the state, though, you’ll be disappointed. Alaska is the name of one of the main characters, and there is nothing about our 49th state here.
So wow, I really did not care for this book at all. It follows a year at a new prep school for high school junior Miles, and several friends he makes there. The friends spend their time smoking, drinking, pulling some pretty serious “pranks,” using profanity, and engaging in other immoral behaviors (one scene in particular was really over-the-top nasty/bad, and I was shocked to read that apparently many schools are now using this book as one that students read in class. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to be teaching the day that chapter was discussed!).
Oddly enough, in the midst of all this orneriness, these kids also quote “deep” literary quotes. They memorize countries’ capitals just for the fun of it. That kind of thing. Miles enters the school in search of the “Great Perhaps,” although he doesn’t appear to be engaging in any behaviors likely to lead to introspective discovery. This bugged me — when I was in high school, the “hoods” as we called them were definitely not the types to be quoting Milton or musing on theorems or whatever while sitting around puffing on cigarettes. Have things changed pretty drastically? Maybe. But I doubt it.
There’s a big, predictable tragedy (no spoilers!), and although the book felt that it should have ended there, it doesn’t. It clunks along for another 30% or more (yep, I read it on Kindle). There’s yet one more big, yucky prank the kids pull.
I don’t want this review to be totally negative, because I have to say that John Green is an excellent writer. He pulls you right in with his prose, and I never feel distracted by quirks in his writing. It flows smoothly, and the dialogue feels real. “I hated discussion classes,” thinks Miles. “I hated talking, and I hated listening to everyone else stumble on their words and try to phrase things in the vaguest possible way so they wouldn’t sound dumb, and I hated how it was all just a game of trying to figure out what the teacher wanted to hear and then saying it. I’m in class, so teach me.” Wow. I could have said that, it sums up my thoughts so well, about so much of school.
Or — “There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot save themselves or save us, that everyone who wades through time eventually gets dragged out to sea by the undertow — that, in short, we are all going.”
I think a big problem with this book is that the characters (all of them, really, at least to me) were unlikable. I saw the book as a picture of young people who were lost and without a lot of focus — sad, really. However, the book has great reviews overall, so maybe I’m on the wrong side of the generation gap for this one.
Have you read “Looking for Alaska” or any John Green books? What did you think?