Looking for Alaska by John Green – Retro Review by Brittany Butler
I thought: This book was just fine until about halfway through when what was written just rubbed me wrong so I quit it for a bit.
I thought: I HAVE to finish it and find not only Alaska but what all the critical fuss was about from the author who crippled me last fall with The Fault in Our Stars.
As in all John Green books, my up and down emotional state of being swayed along for an eternity equaling one whole week and a half. You don’t struggle through Green’s books. You take pause and ponder on them. You sit and savor them up. You let them linger in the air like the smoke on Looking for Alaska’s cover.
I can definitely say that I did like this book but it’s one of those books that you can’t exactly talk to just anyone about without spoiling the central climax. Everything in here comes “before” and then falls into place “after” so to keep in the spirit of keeping secrets intact, I can skip around in the meantime to touch upon the author’s many things metacognitive.
Thinking things like main character, Miles “Pudge” Halter’s obsession with famous last words starting with Francois Rabelais’ “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Fancy that. The last words of a poet so very fitting and quite the attention catch. What does venturing out of this life for the exploration of a Great Perhaps look like? Where would it lead or rather, who would be there? In a ploy to avoid the Mundane Whoknowswhat many settle for, our boy Pudge sidles on down to boarding school where he lands right at the dormitory door of the drop-dead gorgeous, drama-seeking, masochistic super-fox, Alaska Young.
This brings me to my next point on the little needed importantness of all-around likeability.
Did I like this book? Yes.
Did I like our titular character Alaska Young? Ummm, no, not really.
Did it matter? No. It did not as it turns out.
Normally I don’t care for extra pages at the end of a book added in to corral my thinking of things in one way. For me, it’s too reminiscent of classrooms lead by burnt-out lit-teachers seriously lacking from my youth. But here I loved that my 20% off paperback came wordily equipped with Author’s Notes. How can one not dive directly into pages titled, “Last Words About Last Words” and “Spoiler Redacted Reader’s Guide” both from the guy who has literally made millions of readers cry?
Hidden here in these final few pages, John Green candidly talks to me as if he and I are good ole’ friends. He cares about my reading life and needs me to know his points of view so chooses to deliver said points in a self-deprecating style that purely entertains me. Indirectly, he basically asks me to re-think all I’ve thought from beginning to end using his infamous humbleness to play on my empathies. He briefly lays down how he feels sick with the heaviness of taking a reader on a storied journey as our author guide extraordinaire.
Whatever the term for breaking the 4th wall is in books, Green does it. His words look me in the eyes when I read them. He takes time to reflect on his process without being pretentious. He is a man who can not only craft a solid story but values the weight of his writing as whole. He has a strong voice that screams ordinarily ugly themes into the minds of his massive young audience and he does so again and again with realism, wit and his signature style of total relatability.
In Alaska, his word wizardry conjures up the spirits of those trying teenage years where youths are heavy on petting and expressing themselves expletively. He leaves many hard questions unanswered but allows the reader to hypothesize alongside Pudge and others on the meaning of many things rhetorical.
Truth be told this book might not be for everyone. It’s best served up for the fifteen and up crowd to devour. It was my vacation companion this summer but in earnest maybe not the best beach read as I welcomed many interruptions thanks to the abstract impressions that took up residence in my brain from the many pages left dog-eared. When asked on demand about it, I was at a loss for how to sum up my feelings for this book. I shrugged and offered up only the book’s back cover blurb saying, yeah, it’s pretty good, knowing full well I was selling it short. It’s great, perhaps better than expected from a debut novel.
I read this book I was thinking I would rip right through it and add on another notch to my John Green author study with a soon to come blog post before bed.
I’m still in awe of all he did here. The vividness of characters that are completely original archetypes. The multitude of craft carefully weaved throughout and even piled on top of one another for added flavoring without too much finesse. The post-scripted way he made what was to me originally schadenfreude something superbly divine and then immediately re-read.
Am I fan of Looking for Alaska and especially my real literary hero, John Green?
“Yes, I am.”
(last words of John Lennon)
Brittany Butler is a teacher in the south suburbs of Chicago. After nearly ten years of teaching gifted and writing enrichment in the middle grades, she is starting fresh this year as a 3rd grade teacher who wishes she could spend all day just teaching literacy things but is forced to include an hour of math per her contract. She writes every Monday about her reading life and also her alliterated life at www.abitofanalliterate.com and follows John Green religiously on all computer-type internet things.