19 July 2011
Looking For Alaska
Miles Halter is prepared to depart from his home to attend the prestigious Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama. He is a peculiar teen with an obsession concerning the last words of famous people. However, his introverted world comes to a crashing halt once he arrives at Culver Creek and befriends a ragtag group of rebels, including his cocky roommate, the Colonel, and a quirky but troubled girl named Alaska. For the first time in his life, Miles has friends and truly lives life to the fullest. Alas, all of that soon comes to an end when a horrible tragedy strikes the boarding school. . . .
All right, I have something embarrassing to confess. I have had several people recommend John Green's Looking For Alaska to me, and--for whatever reason--I kept confusing this book with the movie Into The Wild, which I have never seen. Thus, I started it fully expecting the characters to eventually go trekking through the wilds of Alaska. I was about halfway through before I realized my mistake and felt like a complete goober. Regardless of my space cadetedness, I love a good coming-of-age story, and I enjoyed Looking For Alaska immensely. (What is about me and boarding school books?)
This story has the requisite number of quirky characters who engage in some crazy good adventures, always a bonus when dealing with a coming of age novel, but I think what sets this book apart from many is its protagonist and Green's witty narration. Miles is probably one of the most normal and non-dysfunctional main characters I've encountered in awhile, which is something I found refreshing. I like a good trainwreck character just as much as the next person, but I think some authors over-rely on tortured characters. Just because a character has issues doesn't mean the character is 3-dimensional. Green did a nice job of making Miles a complex but still believable and infinitely likable young man. The aforementioned narration was also a treat, one that frequently had me chuckling aloud. The random references to famous last words was also an, ahem, interesting touch. (I am now so obsessed with last words of famous people.)
As delightful as the book is, the basic premise is not really anything new. In fact, I sort of see this book as the plot of A Separate Peace narrated by a pre-Catcher in the Rye Holden Caulfield, before he gets bitter and hates phonies. Not necessarily is any of this bad, though. Green is a talented-enough writer that the book does not descend into triteness. Also, just a friendly FYI: I have read that several parents have complained to schools and libraries about this book because of the profanity and sexual content. Personally, I didn't find either one offensive--none of it was gratuitous, in my opinion--but I can see how some people may feel uncomfortable with it.
If you're looking for a fun read about the highs and lows of friendship or just want to meet some new fictional friends, I recommend Looking For Alaska. Just don't expect any of the characters to visit the state of Alaska. . . . *cough*
Next Time: Erm, not sure yet.
This Week In Literary History: This one is for my dear friend Penguins Quack. On 16 July 1951, J.D. Salinger's coming-of-age tale A Catcher in the Rye is published and becomes an instant classic. This book endlessly fascinates and frustrates me, though each time I read it, I like it more. I guarantee that you won't soon forget Holden.