Grand Possibilities: Things we Seek,
Sometimes Lose and Always Gain
(A Book Review of John Green’s Looking for Alaska)
In Looking for Alaska, John Green explores the themes of friendship, suffering, loss, grief and coping. The novel follows a year in the life of high school junior Miles Halter (a.k.a. Pudge) a friendless Floridian who begged his parents to enroll him in Culver Creek Preparatory School, his dad’s Alma Mater. Miles dreams of starting anew at his elite Alabama prep school, to choose his own destiny, not have it chosen for him by others, to seek what the poet François Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps.” At school he befriends with a prankster of a roommate, the Colonel, along with a hodge-podge of endearing genuine outsiders and falls head over heels with sassy, sexy, messed-up Alaska Young.
For an unforgettable 128 days Miles learns life lessons in love, loyalty, friendship, Literature while having his first smoke, a few drinks, break school rules and pull some pranks as well as experience the thrill of a first girlfriend. When tragedy strikes Culver Creek, Miles is forced to undertake an even closer examination of his own character and relationship with his friends.
What starts out as a coming of age story quickly turns into part mystery part piecing-it-together puzzle of sorts. The plot and character driven story takes readers through forests and dormitories of Culver Creek as the kids plan one great prank and learn a lesson they will never forget, because as the book gets exciting, it takes a dramatic turn that shocks even the most attentive of readers.
What’s appealing with Looking for Alaska is its cast of dynamically real, well-drawn characters from unique backgrounds, each with their individual quirk and spunk that John Green successfully developed layer by layer that it seems after you closed the book it is as if you already know everything there is about them. There are no cardboard cut-out characters here; even the Principal (the Eagle) turns out to be a human being.
Of course any review of this book wouldn’t be complete without even mentioning two of the central driving forces of the story: François Rabelais’s “The Great Perhaps” and Simón Bolívar’s words “How will I ever get out of this Labyrinth?” Both of these literary allusions make the reader question the motivation of the characters and the meaning of their own lives throughout the book. It’s quite interesting that both questions will also leave the readers with something to ask for themselves too and give them something to think about.
Nevertheless, this is not merely a novel of ideas and teens emotional stages; Green even manages to bring in the reality of cigarettes and alcohol without a preachy and over-glorifying tone, interspersed with hilarious episodes to provide a beautiful counterpoint to the earnest soul searching. John Green has proven himself no lightweight, and in doing so, he has also adroitly avoided being heavy-handed — no wonder it won numerous awards such as the notable School Library Journal’s 2005 Best Book of the Year and the prestigious 2006 Michael L. Printz Award.
Looking for Alaska is a book that you read and never forget. A book in my opinion so special in that it make you think in a different way; comical and heartbreakingly sad at once while seamlessly dealing with some of the big questions youth of today sometimes face. Beyond the high school drama, it is an inspiring work about life and death, about how someone’s life touches us and changes the way we see things, about overcoming suffering and loss, about the strong bond of friendship, and the choices we must inevitably make. It is about discovering who we are and who we can become as we walk upon this labyrinth we call life and ultimately, why our last words may or may not define who we are as persons who seek, not far from Rabelais’s “The Great Perhaps,” but at least in our own little way, grand possibilities.
Book #2 for 2011
Published by Dutton
(Trade Paperback, 2006 First Printing)
Started: January 17, 2011
Finished: January 19, 2011