Jul 20, 2008

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter, a lonely sixteen-year-old with a tendency to memorize famous people’s last words, leaves his home in Florida for what he calls the “Great Perhaps”: a boarding school in Alabama. There, he manages to make friends for the first time in his life. He befriends his roommate, known as “The Colonel”, another boy named Tukami, and Alaska Young – beautiful, intelligent, mysterious, bookwormish, fascinating Alaska Young.

This book is divided into two sections, “x days before” and “x days after”, so from the onset you know that something big and life-changing is going to happen. This gives the story an urgent, ominous tone. And as you can imagine, the last thing I want to do is give away what it is that happens, and that limits what I can say about the book. I suppose that after one point in the story you can more or less see it coming, but still, I'm not going to say it, so forgive my vagueness.

While the first part of the book is a built-up, the second shows how the characters, especially Miles, deal with the event. The way everything was handled was absolutely perfect. Looking for Alaska is about loneliness, friendship, longing, loss, love and life. The writing style is simple, but still full of achingly beautiful passages. I just love this description of longing and attraction:
Her underwear, her jeans, the comforter, my corduroys and my boxers between us, I thought. Five layers, and yet I felt it, the nervous warmth of touching – a pale reflection of the fireworks of one mouth on another, but a reflection nonetheless. And in the almostness of the moment, I cared at least enough. I wasn’t sure whether I liked her, and doubted whether I could trust her, but I cared at least enough to try to find out. Her on my bed, wide green eyes staring down at me. The enduring mystery of her sly, almost smirking, smile. Five layers between us.
John Green put me in mind of Jeffrey Eugenides with his ability to write about sexuality with delicacy, beauty and emotion. In fact, there was something about this book that reminded me a little of The Virgin Suicides.

Looking for Alaska is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year so far. It’s one of those books that manage to bring me back to my teens. It’s so difficult to accurately capture how important and big and defining things feel at that time of one’s life. Because sometimes looking back, when you remember the facts but don’t have access to the feelings, things can appear less important than they actually were. This book – like Christopher Barzak’s One for Sorrow, for example – manages to perfectly capture the way things feel for teens.

But this is the before that I’m talking about. Then there’s the after. And I really wish there was more I could say. I can say this: Like Douglas Coupland’s Life After God, this is a book in which the narrator ultimately reaches a conclusion about life that is very different from my own. And yet in both cases I never ceased to feel incredibly close to the narrators and to their stories. Both were books that moved me tremendously because they reminded me of what being human is all about, of how much we all actually have in common. I felt emotionally close to Miles to the very end, even though my own solution, my own way out of the labyrinth, is a different one. Because ultimately what matters is that we are all in the labyrinth.

And by now you must be thinking, “Why does she keep going on about labyrinths?”. There are reoccurring references to The General and his Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of Alaska’s favourite books (she also likes Kurt Vonnegut! She and Miles read bits of Cat’s Cradle together), in the novel. Unfortunately, I can’t explain what exactly this is all about without giving too much away.

Looking for Alaska is beautiful, humorous, tragic, moving, warm, thought-provoking and intense. I can’t recommend it enough. I read it in a single sitting - and granted, I was on a plane and there wasn’t much else to do, but I had woken up at 3am and was dying for a nap, yet I couldn’t even think of taking one until I was done with the book. I really couldn’t put it down. I guess this means it would make a perfect Read-a-thon read.

Other Blog Reviews:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Eva at Curledup.com
Becky’s Book Reviews
Tiny Little Reading Room
Not Enough Bookshelves
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Bart's Bookshelf
The Bluestocking Society
Out of the Blue
Em's Bookshelf
Sassymonkey Reads
Books & Other Thoughts
Nothing of Importance
Book Addiction
Care's Online Bookclub
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Valentina's Room
Book Gazing
Flight Into Fantasy
Stella Matutina
In Spring it is the Dawn
Melody's Reading Corner

(Have you reviewed it as well? Let me know and I'll add a link to your review.)


  1. Wow, this one sounds veryyyy interesting. Will be looking for it on Bookmooch.

  2. I've almost picked this one up several times but have always passed it up (I think I may have read a negative review which kept me from getting it...?). I'll have to get it next time I see it--especially with October's read-a-thon in mind. Thanks for the beautiful review, Nymeth.

  3. Oh Nymeth, you're just too damn good at this whole review thing, you know?!! Do you think it is even a remote possibility that I will not now have to go dig this out of the TBR shelves? In case, you're wondering...no, not a possibility. Not at all. In fact, here I go...

  4. I lurved this one!! And I agree-I couldn't put it down either. Great read-a-thon stuff. :)

  5. This sounds like such an amazing book! I've had it on my wishlist for a little while now, but it's getting bumped up now. I love the quote that you gave. I was thinking that it reminded me of The Virgin Suicides (the movie, I haven't read the book) and then you alluded to the book! I'll have to read this for sure! Thanks for another beautiful review :)

  6. Wow! Great review! I've read other reviews on this book and they haven't made me want to read the book but yours definitely did. It's on my TBR list now :)

  7. Hello!
    I tagged you over on my blog. If you want to play along yay! If not I understand too :)



  8. Great review! Now you're the one who's adding stuff on my wish list :P

  9. Other reviews of this book have left me somewhat indifferent, but yours hooked me. It's on my TBR now!

  10. You do excellent reviews. (I loved your P&P review but couldn't think of anything original to say) I wanted to let you know that I read Stardust per your influence - THANK YOU.

  11. Andi, I hope you find it!

    Trish: I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on it. I hope you find it as compelling as I did!

    Debi: I think you'll like this one a lot. And I'm glad you already own it, this way I don't have to feel guilty :P

    Eva: Thank you for recommending it for the southern reading challenge!

    Chris: That's so cool that you thought of The Virgin Suicides too! The movie is really faithful to the book - one of the best adaptations I've ever seen, in fact. And a lot of what the narrators say is straight out of the book. I really think you'll like this one.

    Amanda: I'm glad to hear I made you want to read it! And thanks for the tag. You're the second person to tag me for that meme, actually. I promise I will get to it eventually.

    Lightheaded: We're even :P

    Mrs S and Jeane, I hope you both enjoy it!

    Care, thank you, you're too sweet. And I'm so happy to hear you liked Stardust!

  12. The premise does sounds interestng, Nymeth! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and even read it in one sitting... that must be something!! ;) Love the cover too.

  13. What a thoughtful review. I may have to obtain this book TODAY. I love the comparison to The Virgin Suicides. Your review conjured up that ethereal feel for me.

  14. Great review I did love this book.

    Thanks for the link :)

  15. Melody: It's such a pretty cover, isn't it? It's also really soft..I kept stroking it as I was reading :P

    Jessica: I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

    Marmiteandtea: Thanks. It's such a great book, isn't it?

  16. Awesome review Nymeth! You just added another one to Mt. TBR. It's certain to have an avalanche any minute now. LOL!

  17. Definitely sounds interesting. I am reading my first Jeffrey Eugenides and really enjoying it so far. If I still enjoy it as much by the end as well as the Douglas Coupland book on my list I will look out for this one. I know you are limiting yourself challenge wise next year, but I have really enjoyed the challenge we have been doing together and would be up for another round if you are.

  18. Teddy Rose: So is mine, so is mine :P

    Rhinoa: I'm thrilled to hear you're enjoying Middlesex so far! And I think you'd enjoy Looking for Alaska. I want to join less challenges next year, but I know I won't be able to stay out of them completely. Plus I'm really enjoying your challenge so far too, so yes, count me in! You already got me thinking of which books to pick for you :P

  19. Awesome I will start to plan my list for you! finished Middlesex a few days ago and really liked it. Am behind on my reviews but will try and get one up before the end of the month.

  20. Thanks for a great review that convinced me to read this book!

    I really need the push to go out and find a copy.

    You can read my thoughts on it here.

  21. Thanks again for the recommendation. Here's my review:

  22. Hi there - I reviewed (http://bookgazing.blogspot.com/2009/02/looking-for-alaska-john-green.html). What I'm loving about this WG week is that it means I make a big effort to go out and look for other reviews about the books I've read and find wonderful analysis of books I enjoyed.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.