Looking for Alaska

I really wanted to like this book. Mostly because I like John Green. He’s very funny. (See here, courtesy of Mother Reader…) He’s smart. He’s hip(ish). I liked his argument about this book, how it’s not p*rn (that’s the second video on the link). I thought for sure I’d like the book. Sure, I knew it’d be different from the YA stuff I usually read and like (I did watch the video after all), but I figured that the smart, funny side of John Green that I like would come through. (Besides, books that get banned always make me a bit curious…)

It was smart. The writing’s very smart, very tight. And it is funny in parts. And, sure, I don’t want M reading it right now (it’s a bit more littered with the F-bomb than I would expect from a YA), I could see some 11th or 12th grade English teacher wanting to teach this, and I feel like they’d be mature enough to handle (heck, they probably *see* and *hear* this every day!) the book.

What I didn’t expect was for it to feel so… pretentious.

Miles is bored with his little life in Florida. No real friends, no real interests (except for “collecting” people’s last words through reading biographies), and so when he reads Francois Rabelais’s last words, Miles decides that he wants to go find the “Great Perhaps”. So, he enrolls in the private school his father went to, Culver Creek, and goes to find his great perhaps. What he finds is the Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, Lara, booze, cigarettes, and pranks. So deep. It was all a bit edgy, a bit too hip for me. I kept rolling my eyes thinking “wow this is how people find meaning in their life??”

Then Alaska dies. (Sorry. That’s a big spoiler. I thought the “before” and “after” had to do with sex, not with death.) And Miles and everyone else goes into free fall, not caring (hence more booze and cigarettes), not socializing, hating Alaska for leaving. Because you see, she’s the one with Energy, with Life, with Drive. And it’s such a waste that she’d be out driving drunk at 3 a.m. and crashed headlong into a cop car. So, Miles and the Colonel decide to find out why she died, how she died, (her last words would be nice), pull a grand prank for her, and find their way out of the Labyrinth of Suffering.

I suppose this would resonate with some. And I’m not making fun of anyone that it does resonate with. Really. I think Green was trying to search out some Meaning of Life, some depth, and by making two of his four main characters poor(ish), troubled, scholarship kids, he avoided most of the “rich brats trying to find Meaning” cliches. Still, it just rang shallow for me. It lacked the something that would give it true depth (perhaps it was the booze and cigs? Or maybe that everyone was at an exclusive boarding school? Hard for me to find meaning either place.), and therefore would allow it to truly resonate with me.

That said, I’ll probably give Green’s other book a try (partially because I like the cover). I think he’s got talent. I just didn’t really like this particular manifestation of it.

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8 thoughts on “Looking for Alaska

  1. I have slightly mixed feelings on this one. I really loved it the first time I read it. I read it before it hit it big. I think it was prior to its release date. If not, it was in the first few weeks. There was no buzz connected to it certainly. There was no vlogging going on. And I loved it. I thought it had all the elements of a good coming-of-age story.This second time through (just in the past week or so) and I was struggling with it. Struggling to find what I found before. I still liked parts of it. (All the parts about bufriedos) But it was empty in places as well. Like all that there was to life was drinking and smoking. Anyway, it wasn’t good for me the second time around.I don’t know why I was so disconnected this time around. Maybe I expect more now, or maybe it’s a mood thing??? Anyway, I enjoyed your review. Your reaction was like my reaction the second time around.

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  2. I just wanted to say YES… I agree with all you’ve said about this interesting book that I too just recently read and didn’t quite know how to explain what I thought. Great review! I also plan on reading his other books (a third one coming out soon I think.)

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  3. I haven’t read this one. But I have read An Abundance of Katherines which I really enjoyed. I’ve got a < HREF="http://teentroves.com/blog/?p=134" REL="nofollow">review<> of it up at my YA lit blog

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  4. So, this is pretty interesting! For you it felt pretentious and this was a drawback, but for me it felt pretentious but if it hadn’t it would’ve felt fake.Because in my experience (personal and second-hand) some teens can be pretty pretentious. I thought all of that was specific to the mood. For kids that age, all those things are pretty deep, though, right? Everything is Epic and Serious.One reading of it I got the vibe that the purpose was to show that it’s impossible to find meaning, which is why Miles and his friends ultimately fail in their search. I don’t think Green was promoting the search for a Meaning of Life, I think he was trying to prove that it can’t be found, and the peace in that acceptance; having faith, pretty much. Because, after all, kids want to know the <>why<> of things; it’s curiosity of youth. But some things can’t be explained.I liked <>An Abundance of Katherines<> better than this one, though, but only because I like hilarity and footnotes more than teenage angst.

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  5. I think Becky and Renay have somewhat of the same point. Yes, it was pretentious, but without it, it probably wouldn’t have had the same impact. I think that’s true. It got on my nerves, though. Which is Becky’s point… perhaps this is one of those books that’s really best enjoyed by teens (or those closer to teenagers) than adults. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if M were older, or if I were younger. I do want to read An Abundance of Katherines, though. It sounds like fun. Thanks for the link, Molly.

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  6. That’s funny-I really enjoyed this one, and the pretentiousness was one of the things that amused me. I remember being about that age (probably because it wasn’t that long ago!), and while I didn’t drink/smoke/have sex in high school, I was certainly angsty about the Meaning of Life. And a lot of my friends were like that too. So it made me giggle at the folly of youth. hehe

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