Saturday, November 3, 2012

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

I have been writing YA fiction exclusively since last summer, and earlier this year I realized while I was spending every day writing and working on new YA projects, I wasn’t reading as much YA fiction as I should have been. I checked out The Hunger Games trilogy of course, and I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Harry Potter series, but my knowledge of the genre was (and definitely still is) somewhat lacking.
In March, Shaunta and I decided to start reading at least one young adult book a month, and now that we’ve started this blog, we’ll probably end up reading even more than one a month. And let me tell you this: if every YA book I read is half as good as John Green’s Looking for Alaska, I’m going to be in for some joyous reading experiences. A friend of Shaunta’s recommended the author John Green last February, and I soon checked him out on Amazon—I loved the concepts of his books, plus, of course, the sparkling reviews. I didn’t know which one to start with, so I decided to check out his debut novel, published back in 2005, and I’m glad I did. Looking for Alaska isn’t just the best book I’ve read so far in 2012; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What a touching, funny book this is, and never in an obvious way, either. John Green’s writing is engaging from beginning to end, with characters that feel real, from their dialogue to their behavior to their screw-ups to their worries and fears. Miles, aka Pudge, is an extremely flawed leading character but always earns our sympathies, and Alaska is written as a smart young woman with wit and sass, and not as merely a sexual object. The arc of her journey is magnificent. And then there’s Chip, aka The Colonel, who provides hilarious comic relief. A scene where he explains his relationship with his dad was so funny that I did something I’ve never done before: take a picture of a paragraph. The sentence about the paperback books made me crack up so much I thought I was going to die. Here it is below…
When I started reading the book, I thought I had the “before and after” device pegged from the get-go: I knew the “before” section was going to be the relationship between Miles and Alaska leading up to their first sexual encounter, and the “after” was going to be how their relationship progressed after the awkward, and potentially inebriated, evening spent together. Boy, was I wrong. The device turned out to be a surprise, and it certainly made the last third of the book an even richer and more emotional experience than the first two thirds.
John Green’s books have been praised to the high heavens, and rightfully so: his characters pop off the page, so much so that at times you feel like you’re literally standing amongst them, existing with them in their world. Looking for Alaska made me laugh and cry, and I don’t say that lightly; most books don’t make me do either, let alone both. I’m so happy I’ve discovered this man’s work—I just bought The Fault in Our Stars at Powell’s Books in Portland—and I’m ecstatic to have four more of his books to plow through at a date in the near future. Many of you know of this guy’s work, but if any of you don’t, I recommend you start with Looking for Alaska. This book is simply amazing!

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