Saturday, 18 July 2015

#CBR7 Book 75: "Looking for Alaska" by John Green

Page count:  263 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Miles Halter doesn't really have any friends in his Florida high school and persuades his parents to send him to the same boarding school in Alabama that his father once attended. When he gets there, he is quickly included in the already established circle of friends including his roommate Chip, usually referred to as the Colonel; the intense and unpredictable Alaska, whom Miles falls in love with pretty much at first sight; and Takumi, who seems like the most sane of the group. After a rather terrifying hazing ritual, the studious Miles (nicknamed Pudge by Alaska) settles in nicely at Culver Creek, barely missing his parents at all.

Miles' hobby is basically memorising famous people's last words and as the Colonel likes memorising pretty much anything from his trusty almanac (countries, capitals, population sizes and so on), they seem to get along fine. In between the regular school days, there are minor adventures, often involving intricate pranks, school intrigue, social engagements, but mainly just the teens hanging out, getting to know one another better or trying to sneak away to get drunk or smoke. From the very beginning, the book is counting down to something, until about two thirds of the way through, we get to "the last day". What happens during this fateful night, irrevocably changes the lives of Miles and his friends, and the rest of Miles' school year involves trying to get some clear answers to what actually happened. What led to the tragic events of that night? Could Miles, Takumi or the Colonel have done something, anything at all, to stop it?

I started reading John Green's novels with his most recent publication, The Fault in Our Stars. With this, his debut novel, I have now finished all his books. It's not difficult to see why he's so popular with YA readers, in my experience, especially teenage girls. In the coming school year, I will try to talk to the librarian at our school to see what we can do to get his books out to the boys, because with the exception of Hazel Grace, all of Green's protagonists are boys, and I think a lot of the boys at my school might like the books if they gave them a chance.

I mentioned in my review for Paper Towns that Green writes wonderful teenage friendships, and this book is no exception. I liked hanging out with Miles and his friends, even though I thought Miles, like Quentin in Paper Towns, got a bit too obsessed with the object of his infatuation, a troubled girl who really had very little real interest in him. I liked the parts of the book counting down better than the last third, that dealt with the aftermath of the "event". Nonetheless, I can see why dealing with the subject matter is important in a YA book and coming to terms with grief, uncertainty and loss is never an easy topic.

If asked to rate John Green's books so far, in order from my least favourite to my favourite, the order would probably go:
5. An Abundance of Katherines (I didn't like the maths all that much, and Colin was a whiner)
4. Looking for Alaska (I just didn't buy Miles and Alaska's nearly star-crossed romance)
3. Paper Towns (Quentin should have been a bit less self-centred and Margo-obsessed)
2. The Fault in Our Stars (Made me feel all the feels, but mostly in a sad way)
1. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Made me feel all the feels, but mostly in a happy way)

If asked to rate the various cast of characters, I would probably end up rating the books the same way. Now that I've read all of his books, I suppose I shall just have to wait impatiently for John Green to publish something new.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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