Author: John Green
First Published: 2005
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Heart-wrenching and beautiful, Looking For Alaska is the stinging debut by the award-winning author John Green, famed for his previous young adult fiction novel The Fault In Our Stars. His ability to captivate his audience as he powerfully crafts stories based on the most tragic situations is truly a gift; he engages his readers by yet again exploring an issue that is harrowing but very heartfelt.
Throughout the novel, we delve into the relationships between the pupils at Culver Creek Academy, the school at which the majority of the novel is rooted, and here the novel reminds us how no matter how close you think your bond is with someone, you never know for certain how they interpret the world. Throughout its storyline, Looking For Alaska teaches how there is always more than meets the eye, and the repercussions of not acknowledging this are severe.
The plot unfolds with the narrator, Miles, who we learn earns the ironic nickname “Pudge” upon arrival at Culver Creek. In the first chapter, we witness him heading to boarding school to follow in his father’s footsteps on the pursuit for adventure and companionship, and of course to learn more famous people’s last words, which readers would agree he displays a remarkable talent for. Following the day of his entrance, he quickly becomes familiarised with the prejudice against the “Weekday Warriors”, the infamous pranks that his roommate “the Colonel” and Alaska play, and general survival at Culver Creek. And not before long, he becomes aware he is falling in love with Alaska.
From this point, the three friends, joined by Takumi and later in the novel Lara, assist each other in plotting further mischief against the Weekday Warriors and the school itself. Alongside this, the bonds of friendship they build with each other are unbreakable, and the story blossoms these relationships before it twists and turns into the gloomier aspects of life. Alaska and her secretive past are always concealed from Miles, and consequently the reader too. Green cleverly weaves clues throughout the scenes where Alaska is with Miles, yet they can be interpreted many different ways.
The most complicated relationship explored throughout the novel is that which Miles and Alaska share. Tentative and inexperienced, Miles adores Alaska from their very first meeting, where he first sees her in her bedroom after she joins him in the garden that evening. He struggles to understand her, and this frustrates him. Approaching the first half of the novel, we see the storyline develop their connection further; however, following this scene, we get the biggest tragedy in the novel, thus leaving Miles to pick up the pieces and question everything they had: “I’m scared of ghosts, and home is just full of them.”
Alaska’s relationship with people is complicated. Undeniably, she is a strong-minded feminist who constantly reprimands her friends about degrading women. Yet she is a confused soul, as we learn she had committed the ultimate betrayal against her former roommate, resulting in her expulsion from Culver Creek. However, Alaska shows the ultimate face of loyalty and love for her friends, especially the Colonel who she appears to have the strongest bond with. They share jokes together and have a colloquial connection, as displayed when the Colonel demands Alaska to open her door because he wanted some cigarettes on their first day back.
Despite her image of not caring for anybody or anything, Alaska is clever and has an ambition to teach disabled children as we grow to understand when she takes out her “class” of students in her car for pre-calc. It is during this scene that Alaska introduces Pudge to his future girlfriend Lara, but as we learn, he never stops yearning for Alaska. To complicate her relationship with Miles even more, Alaska has a boyfriend, Jake, who comes to visit occasionally and is “the first boyfriend she hasn’t cheated on” according to the Colonel. This leads us to question: will she remain loyal to him or not, and likewise, will she commit an act of betrayal against a friend again?
Interestingly, the chapters are listed abnormally to other novels. For example, chapter one is called “One-Hundred And Thirty-Six Days Before”, and the others follow accordingly, until the second half of the novel introduces it as “The Day After”, suggesting all of Miles’ life had been leading up to that particular event, and what followed was simply the process of recovery.
An underlying theme in this novel is the sense of feeling lost. “The labyrinth” is what Alaska refers to when she is faced with a problem or someone else presents one. We never truly understand what the labyrinth symbolises for her, yet Green explores different options, especially in the second half of the novel. Here, it is down to Miles, the Colonel and Takumi to work out what Alaska’s labyrinth was and how she could finally escape it. Green cleverly weaves the theme of the labyrinth throughout the storyline, using it in the classes and also as a metaphor for life.
Green explores the feelings of guilt and regret in Looking For Alaska. He draws on the relationships that Miles, the Colonel, Takumi and even Lara share with Alaska in the novel, and he illustrates their grief through different ways. Based on this, I feel as though Jake could have played a bigger role in the second half of the novel, and Green could have used his character to explore more of Alaska’s story from yet another person’s point of view.
Looking For Alaska undeniably follows in the same footsteps of The Fault In Our Stars. It contains aspects from every emotion, as it will make you laugh and make you cry. Not only is it a brilliant read, it is beautifully written and connects the reader all the way through. This book will definitely have you turning every page eagerly until you have finished the story.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent