Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

This book was harder to get through than most. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this book was highly recommended to me, as it is by the one and only John Green. This caused me to have high expectations and sadly, as is often the case when a book has been significantly hyped up to me, I was not that impressed. The beginning was unimpressive, the middle was boring, and the ending…well okay I loved the ending. The ending almost makes up for the mediocre status of the rest of the book. Almost.

I’m pretty sure that in any class, John Green would be that cool but annoying kid who when the teacher asks a queation, they answer with a really deep but hard to understand response, and the teacher’s like well that is not what I was looking for but you’re actually more right than the right answer was. Green tackles some difficult topics in this book, both in obvious statements and subtle undertones. These range from normal teenage angst to underage drinking to survivor’s guilt. Each is treated respectfully and is fairly shown, neither glorified nor mocked. One of the things I really like about John Green’s writing is that he does not tell you the ultimate answer to the tough questions he brings up. In the end, he will point out the direction of his personal beliefs but leaves it up to the reader to really think for themself and figure out what they believe. This book is definitely not a light read; it needs to be digested and mulled over to really get to the heart of the story.

So, what is the story? I’ll just give you a brief outline. Boy goes to boarding school because he has no friends at his public school. He fits in better at siad boarding school, partially because he is willing to break the rules and also because he quickly earns the respect of the group he falls into because he is, beneath it all, of good character. Our boy falls in love, and then we go through a long stretch of borring normal everyday schooltime. Plot twist causes boy to have existential crisis, which in the last chapter he finally solves.

I have two main criticisms of this book. The first, is the language. I know, fans of this book (and most teens worldwide, probably) would tell me “that’s how real people talk!” or “it’s part of their character”. I can more easily buy the second argument, but really, it’s fiction, you could have had your characters speak and do whatever you wanted John. Green, and taking out a few cuss words here and there would not have hurt the story any and would have made it easier for me to read. The same goes for how often the characters smoke, and sneak around behind the faculty’s back. Given that these kids are at a boarding school, I acknowledge that this is realistic, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary to the character development or this specific story.

My second main piece of criticism is the pace of the story. There’s a lot of everyday stuff included that has no major impact on the plot. While this was not a technically difficult book to read, it was frequently rather boring. True, a significant amount of what I initially thought to be useless information did eventually play a bigger role in the story, but it took a long time to get there. There was almost no foreshadowing as to the importance of these details. There was a fair amount of foreshadowing ‘the event’, and maybe it’s just me but I think that if I had had some hint that the early details were more than fluff it would have been easier to get through.

But the ending. In the end everything that needs to make sense does, and what doesn’t need to make sense, is okay to not make sense. While I do not agree with everything the main character decides to believe, I like that he is able to articulate so well what he thinks about the deep issues brought up. He really gets it, and while this comes in a different form from my beliefs, I respect that he is really trying to find the answers, and I can hope that someday he finds even more than what he has in the beautifully-written last chapter.

Overall, it was an okay book. It took the main characters a long time to figure out a major detail which I noticed right away, however, and it bugged me. I don’t want to have a spoiler so I won’t say what it is, but, really? I usually do not catch things in books which the characters themselves do not point out, at least not at first, and this was a big deal. Oh, and I have one more bone to pick; how is anyone supposed to relate to a kid who doesn’t like mac n cheese? Am I the only one who sees this as a big deal? Over 100 pages into the book, and then we find out he doesn’t like mac n cheese. Sigh.

Looking for Alaska was a really deep book, and it has a good mesage, but I do not like the way the author got the point across. For the most part I would not recomend this book, but I am glad I have read it.

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