Publisher: Speak (December 28, 2006)
Format: Kindle Edition
You know how everybody has one book, a perfect book that makes you alternate between crying and laughing, thinking and zoning out, a book that you can’t wait to read and simultaneously want to put down (mainly because it’s making you cry too much)?
This is my one book.
Miles Halter is one of those high school students who is merely floating through life–no real friends, no girlfriends, no one to notice if he stopped existing (except maybe his parents and he’s not even all that sure that they would). In an effort to change that, he transfers to a boarding school in Alabama and meets Chip, his foul-mouthed genius roommate who is from the wrong side of the trailer park and yearns to give the yuppies at the school a comeuppance. His best friend is the equally intelligent and maddeningly infuriating, Alaska. A girl who is witty, well-read, and possesses that mysterious je ne sais quoi that causes all within her orbit to love her. Chip and Alaska befriend Miles and together they teach him about living through literature, booze and cigarettes, and romance. The book is divided into two sections: Before and After and at the risk of taking away the heartbreaking surprise of the event in between, I’ll just say that the After section deals mainly with Miles and Chip and their quest to discover what happens to Alaska.
I’m not gonna lie: this book had me bawling like a baby. I didn’t read any plot summaries of it before diving in (sometimes it’s best to go into a book without any preconceived notions, you know?) but the event that the book is centered around knocked me on my butt. I didn’t see it coming at all. When it happened, I freaked: I cried, I texted Ellen while crying, cried to anyone who would listen really (that lady on the plane thought I was just plain nutso, FYI), and in the end, had to put the book down for a day before I was able to continue.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here. When we first meet Miles he is just plain pathetic. So bland and vanilla that I knew he couldn’t stay like that for much longer before offing himself. Seriously. And then he decides to change his life completely, to start anew, and that’s where things go from bland and boring to funny and enthralling. Moving from Florida to boarding school in Birmingham, AL is the best thing that could ever happen to him. It forces him to take chances, to risk opening himself up to hurt, yes, but also to love and to friendship, aspects sadly lacking from his young life. Chip and Alaska are two larger than life characters who are pedants (normally so annoying when 16 year olds spout off like college professors) but taper their intelligence with the usual teenage vices of drugs and alcohol. They didn’t seem forced as characters, their dialogue natural and flowing. With the addition of Miles, their little group is complete. Miles is the quiet, stable one who normally wouldn’t rock the boat and he tempers their zest for life while they in turn, infuse him with some of their own joie de vivre (you know it’s good when I bring out the french). The three make it through the first few months of school with zany antics and witty dialogue until The Incident happens (again I’m not going to tell you what happens because the shock of it all is what really gets you. I mean, I’m sure you can guess and I’m being so mysterious that you’ll more than likely read a more detailed blurb elsewhere but if you really want a shock, just don’t, ok? Also, stop reading my review right here.). Afterward, Miles and Chip are left to pick up their lives without Alaska and it’s a difficult process. She lingers even though she isn’t there physically. The fact that Miles has unresolved feelings for her makes it all the more heartbreaking. This is one of those quintessential teen books that feels like it should be more angst-ridden but in fact is a book about life and living that life to the fullest of your abilities. It’s about not waiting for things to happen to you but actively seeking them regardless if the end result is pain and hurt. This is a book that teaches you how fragile young life can be and how we should cherish the moments we have with people, not drift through those moments allowing them to be meaningless. The characters actually grow and mature and we watch it happen. It’s beautiful and funny and sad in a way that lingers but like its message about life, this book is not one you will easily forget.
So based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. A boy as the main character and I like it?! Wha…? Doesn’t usually happen but this book is practically perfect and having a girl in the role of Miles wouldn’t have been the same. It probably would have been much more flighty and sappy so Miles really works here. He’s low key and unassuming, yes, but we actually watch him mature and open himself through his friendships with Chip and Alaska. It’s a beautiful thing to read.
How much did I like the love interest: 9. While Alaska annoyed me at first (girlfriend is not only brilliant and well read, but she’s also gorgeous and so full of life that I wanted to smack her. Also, her parents let her pick her own name and what she chose was Alaska–come on!), her attitude toward living is one I wish I had now. She’s so care free and believes in doing what feels right to her no matter the consequences. She did lose a point however for the fact that she never really cared how her actions affected others, especially Miles.
How believable is the plot: 10. Do boarding schools really exist in Alabama? Do people really have names nowadays like Chip or Miles? You know, little details like that I pushed aside because this story is so freaking believable. You can really see some kid like Miles going off to boarding school as a means to escape his boring life and you can really see people like Chip and Alaska existing and dragging everybody into their orbit.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. John Green is a master of the tightly written book. Everything is seamless. It flows well, the dialogue is 100% believable, the characters are just normal enough to seem heartbreakingly real, and the pacing before The Incident is great. After The Incident, things feel like they slow down a bit but it’s normal that the writing style reflect the mood of what’s happening in a story so no points lost there.
How much did I want to keep reading: Would you believe it if I said I alternate between a 1 and a 10? I mean, this book is fantastic no doubt but The Incident made me stop reading for an entire day because honestly, it made me so sad. But I wanted to know what happened to Alaska, was practically burning to hear the whys of it so I guess that earns it a final 10.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Men writing YA fiction is usually a turn off for me, especially when there is a bit of romance thrown in. With Looking For Alaska you will not be disappointed: it’s a coming of age story that is at the same time a romance and guidebook for friendship. Read it, read it, read it. You won’t be disappointed.