Review: Looking For Alaska

“I lacked 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 if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date: 2005


This is the first book I downloaded and read on my phone via Kobo, and (with a reading rate of 99 pages per hour as my statistics tell me) I truly enjoyed it.

The plot followed the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, a youth who leaves home for boarding school in search of a “Great Perhaps”. The book is poetic, and full of realistic teenage strife as it explores the human condition. It does include a large amount of alcohol abuse, smoking and bullying although the characters are all intelligent in terms of knowledge (wisdom levels are debatable). The impression I was left with from this book was that it was a more modern and raw interpretation of J D Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”.
“Looking For Alaska” is a unique story of muddled adolescence, and could prove to become a classic (I understand at least one school in America has started using it for class studies).

The structure of this book was one of my favourite aspects. The chapter headings, instead of numbers or dates, are labelled “Two Hundred Days Before”, “One Hundred and Three Days Before”, “Five Days Before”, and keep you reading as you come closer to an unknown climax. The plot, likewise, builds up towards the unknown event naturally, with many of the interactions only gaining meaning in hindsight.

The language in the book is directed to a young adult audience from a young adult anti-hero, and invites you into their culture. There are several instances of slang that are localized to the boarding school which reflects both the unique culture fostered within the school, as well as the author’s ability to connect with the teenage psyche. One example of this are the “Weekday Warriors”, the rich kids who leave for home on the weekends and are hated by practically anyone who isn’t one. Another is the “bufriedos”, a fictional meal of fried burritos served up in the school cafeteria and named by one of the characters.

The book is rich not only with localized culture, but the diverse range of characters which it centralizes on. Each has their own qualities and shortcomings as they try to wade their way though life and find meaning, and different characters come to different conclusions on what exactly life is about and the correct processes to deal with issues. Although it is an American novel, it is sensitive to cultural differences, as is represented by two foreign students: one Japanese and the other Romanian.

Overall, this is a very good book, and although it is not exactly cheerful I would strongly recommend it.

The author, John Green, has published several other books (which I have yet to check out), and hosts a YouTube channel with his brother Hank (vlogbrothers) as well as an educational channel which teaches History and other such useful subjects (CrashCourse). They are also host to a strong online community called nerdfighteria, and their latest news can be found via their YouTube channel or website.

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