584 of 624 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2005
...and read this book in one sitting. Okay, it's short and incredibly good, which makes it easy to bolt down. But then you are going to feel like an idiot for not savoring the pleasure, and you're going to be bleary as hell the next day (if you finish it at 4 in the morning, like I did).
This book deals with the Big Ones: suffering, loss, and grief, but it does so with such compassion and humor that the net impact is uplifting. Even the principal turns out to be a human being. There are no cardboard cut-out characters here.
Be aware that the kids in this story do what kids actually do (smoke, drink, and have sex). If that bothers you, read it anyway. There are more important things in life than observing proprieties and pretending that bright kids aren't exploratory. You don't have to approve of these characters. It is enough to love them and learn from them.
397 of 453 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2005
Somewhere between searching for the secret to winning at Texas Holdem in Doyle Brunson's SUPER SYSTEM II, A COURSE IN POWER POKER, and envying a 101 year old lady boat captain in Jimmy Buffett's A SALTY PIECE OF LAND, I found John Green's Young Adult Novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA.
I kept looking at the alluring cover of ALASKA on my night stand and decided that POWER POKER could wait and rushed through A SALTY PIECE.
If you have a child going to boarding school soon, goes there now or has gone there, as my son did, you must read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. If you want to understand the loneliness, happiness, mischief, joy, sorrow, sadness and a few other emotions of a teenager, you must read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. If you are convinced your teenager will not mature until much later, you better not read ALASKA. If you are concerned about the experiences that your teenager might have, do not read ALASKA. If you are a teenager, read this book!
Need help with a pair of Aces? Simple - see Doyle. Got Margaritaville on your mind? No problem - Jimmy is your man. But if you want to come of age with an extraordinarily endearing group of kids, read this book.
My son tells me it is being touted as Young Adult Fiction. I don't know about that. I can only tell you that at 64, I am a younger man for having read it.
141 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2006
Green's debut YA novel follows a year in the life of high school junior Miles Halter, a friendless Floridian who begged his parents to enroll him in the Culver Creek boarding school. Miles dreams of starting anew at his elite Alabama prep school, of finding Francois Rabelais's "The Great Perhaps." At school, he falls in with a prankster of a roommate, the Colonel, and the sassy, sexy, messed-up Alaska Young. For an unforgettable 128 days, Miles learns life lessons in love, loyalty, friendship, literature, and poetry, as well as experiences 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.
This is an outstanding coming-of-age novel that has already proved to be a favorite teen read. It doesn't resort to a cop out of a "happily ever after" ending, but the characters each seek closure on their own terms. The characters are well-drawn, witty, and full of individual quirks and spunk. Green even manages to bring in the reality of cigarettes and alcohol without a preachy or over-glorifying tone. This novel has won the Teen's Top 10 award as well as the Printz Award, and Green is well on his way to YA superstardom. I'm looking forward to his next novel.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
John Green's ambitious YA novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, took the Michael Printz Award and probably deserves it due to its excellent characterizations of the title character (Alaska Young), the protagonist (Miles "Pudge" Halter), the protagonist's clever roommate (Chip "Colonel" Martin), and their Asian sidekick (Takumi). The setting is an Alabaman private school, Culver Creek, and the catalyst for Miles is a pair of famous last words, Francois Rabelais' "I go to seek a Great Perhaps," and Simon Bolivar's "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?"
With its academic setting, the book provides classroom and dorm room fodder for "deep" discussions, chiefly about religion, famous writers, and poets. It also indulges in a few cliches, namely the slightly dorky lead character in search of himself in a world of hormone-crazed teens who smoke, drink, and quest for sex every chance they get.
Readers may be divided on the title character -- some fascinated by the mercurial personality of Alaska, and others annoyed (as are her friends, off and on) by her constant moods and antics. What's more, the book is divided by a "before" and an "after." The "before" succeeds to a greater extent than the "after" for reasons I cannot specify due to spoiler information.
Still, I was able to overlook Alaska's whining, an easily-solved mystery at the end, and a few characters' very bad accents (phonetically spelled out by Green) due to the fact that this YA went the extra mile and didn't depend on plot alone. I had hoped to place this in my classroom library, but there's just no way due to the adult themes. Will it tempt teen readers? You bet. But schools have rules and it's not worth the possible hazards of offering age-inappropriate stuff -- even when it's GOOD age-inappropriate stuff.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2010
Though /Looking for Alaska/ is categorized as young adult fiction, it's an enjoyable read for any age. John Green has a talent for picking out little details in the world he creates, then using those details to remind the reader that this is a world that could have been -- indeed, it's the world we live in, and Green does a good job of convincing the reader of that.
The quality of the writing is very high, and the story is in general very good. However, I was underwhelmed by the ending of this book. There is a nice, humanizing climax in the last pages of /Alaska/, but the book sets itself up as deeper and more philosophical than it really is. John Green creates this world of living, breathing characters and sets very realistic events into motion... But in the end, not much is resolved or clarified in any profound way. That's probably a realistic portrayal of life itself, but not necessarily what one would be looking for in a book with a dust cover touting the "indelible impact" of human life.
A fun, fast read, but certainly not an "indelible" book and not a particularly deep one -- no matter how young or old an adult you may be.
83 of 110 people found the following review helpful
Miles Halter -- for all intents and purposes -- is a bit of a social misfit. He has few friends -- much to the chagrin of his doting parents. Feeling stifled and like an outsider in his Florida high school, he convinces his parents he wants to attend Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama (his father's alma mater). Although his parents aren't quite sure why he wants to leave, he explains it by sharing Rabelais's last words -- "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." (Miles's greatest eccentricity is that he "collects" people's last words.)
At Culver Creek, he is quickly befriended by his roommate Chip Martin (known on campus as The Colonel). A forceful personality who is one of the masterminds behind elaborate pranks, the Colonel includes Miles (now christened "Pudge") in his circle of friends -- which includes a Japanese exchange student named Takumi and an attractive girl named Alaska. The Colonel fills Pudge in on the social hierarchy of Culver Creek -- the boarders vs. the Weekend Warriors (the rich kids who go home on the weekend), how to outfox The Eagle (the stern headmaster), and how to camouflage smoking and hide liquor. The friends navigate the school year together -- weathering difficult classes, exploring their sexuality, planning pranks, and feuding with the Weekend Warriors.
Miles quickly falls into life at Culver Creek -- and into love with Alaska. Never having had a girlfriend, he finds Alaska fascinating. Not only is she beautiful, but she is a free spirit -- alternately fascinating and moody, friendly then standoffish. And he's not the only one with feelings for Alaska -- her captivating personality and good looks has more than one boy lusting after her. Although she has a boyfriend who she says she loves, that doesn't stop her from flirting and wrapping Miles around her little finger. But Alaska clearly has some troubles in her past that lead to emotional outbursts that confuse and frighten her friends.
After one particularly drunken night, a tragedy occurs that leaves the circle of friends rocked to their core. Amid the grief, confusion and guilt that follows, Miles and his friends look for answers to the mystery of Alaska and get a taste of what the Great Perhaps might hold.
First off, a funny little story about how I got this book. I had been hearing about this book on a bunch of different book blogs and everyone kept raving about it so I thought "Well, I'll check it out." I put it on my wish list at Paperback Swap, and my wish was granted almost immediately. But when the book came, it appeared to be a travel book about the state of Alaska. "That's funny," I thought, "This sure doesn't seem like the book everyone was talking about." And it wasn't. I had the author wrong! I'd gotten Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins, which is indeed a book about traveling and living in the state of Alaska. So beware and don't make the mistake I did -- check the author's name closely!
Anyway, I eventually did get the right book. However, I wasn't as enthralled by it as other bloggers seem to be. In fact, the book didn't move me all that much. Perhaps this is because it is a Young Adult book, and I am anything but a Young Adult. (And just what does Young Adult mean anyway? Late teens/early twenties? Mid-teens? This is one of those categories I wasn't aware of until I started blogging, and I'm a little confused about exactly what demographic these books are supposed to be for.) However, I'm not completely immune to all Young Adult books -- after all, I was sucked into the Twilight saga as quickly and completely as any young adult. (Embarrassing? Yes, but I don't make apologies.) Looking for Alaska even won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association. Surely there must be something I am missing.
Much of my problem was I just didn't fall in love with the characters. It felt forced to me that Miles collected last words -- perhaps only a device to make him somewhat interesting? Alaska struck me as a bit unstable and a tease. The Colonel was the most interesting character to me -- but only when forced to choose among the main cast of characters. Takumi barely registers except for the role he plays in the end. So the tragedy at the core of the book didn't really resonate with me -- I didn't feel the grief and agony because I just didn't care all that much.
Another problem for me was that you know something big is coming so you're somewhat prepared for it. The first part of the book (Before) is a countdown (one hundred thirty six days before, eighty days before, one day before). Then the big tragedy occurs. Then the book starts counting upwards (one day after, thirty days after). To me, this device led me to anticipate what was coming so it didn't quite have the emotional impact it might have had if I had been surprised.
I did try to view this book as a young adult might have in order to give a more impartial review, but I think there have been better books that deal with this same basic topic (Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson comes to mind -- although that might be geared to a much younger set of readers.) The thing is: This book just didn't do it for me. Although the writing is fine, I was just not drawn into the book in a way that made it memorable for me.
My Final Recommendation
I personally didn't find this book as emotionally charged and powerful as so many other reviewers indicated. In fact, I was left a bit cold by it and finished it with a shrug. However, I seem to be in the minority on this one so you might want to seek other opinions. However, if you are the parent of a teen or young adult and would like to initiate a discussion about death, then perhaps this book might be a good choice. I don't know -- maybe I should have read the Peter Jenkins book instead!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
Looking for Alaska by John Green is a potent account of a teen's first year away at boarding school where he falls in love, gets into some trouble, starts smoking, and tragically loses his first love. The main character of this novel is Miles Halter, who is ironically nicknamed "Pudge" by his roommate, Chip or the "Colonel", due his tall skinny stature. Miles meets his two other friends through the Colonel: Takumi and Alaska. Alaska is a witty beautiful and troubled prankster. And it is Miles pursuit and loss of her that structures the chapters of the novel. The chapters are numbered days before or after his gain and loss of Alaska. This is a philosophical book, but it never seems trite. Green has crafted characters that are neither too perfect nor too terrible and they seem very relatable in the process. It is a very honest portrayal of both a wonderful and terribly tragic year for its main character. Looking for Alaska is beautifully crafted and well written. I look forward to reading Green's next novel.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2008
I teach high school, and I really wanted to read this to my students. Unfortunately, it has some language usage and sexual references that make it impossible to read as a class. I would recommend it to a high school student, however. It is pertinent to things that may be happening in their lives, and it has some powerful literary elements that may someday make it a classic.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
Miles Halter is a hopelessly nerdy sixteen-year-old - with a morbid preoccupation with the last words of historical figures - when he leaves his native Florida for Culver Creek, a boarding school near Birmingham, Alabama. There, he meets a group of students who will change his life forever.
Miles immediately befriends his inordinately smart and sarcastic roommate, Chip. Possibly because Chip is a natural leader, he is referred to by his classmates as The Colonel. In short time, The Colonel christens Miles as Pudge, a nicely ironic name because Miles is impossibly skinny.
The title character, Alaska Young, is an enigma to Pudge and quickly becomes an obsession for him. Though Alaska has a boyfriend, well off campus, Pudge has hope as Alaska is such a quirky, impulsive girl.
Pudge and his tight circle of friends are inseparable, pulling off some of the best pranks in school history until Alaska's untimely death in an auto accident. Much of the story after this centers around her friends' struggle to understand how and why she died.
It's hard not to like a coming-of-age tale, especially when it's told as well as this. Green's language always sounds authentic, like it's coming out of the mouths of these young people. Like any good story in this genre, the reader can really see himself there, with these characters and in this place.
Green, who now lives in New York and is a occasional contributor to NPR, has really hit a home run with this, his first book. It has now been honored as a American Library Association Teen's Top 10. This honor will not likely be the first, or the last, for this gifted newcomer.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2014
I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't. Don't get me wrong — the writing is rich and engaging. Green is obviously a gifted writer. But I just didn't like the characters that much. They are portrayed as very intelligent, yet they smoke and drink profusely, plan elaborate and pointless pranks, and are often overdramatic and obsessive. Alaska is not as compelling as Pudge seems to think, and I often wondered why so many guys had fallen head over heels for her. Was it her skimpy outfits, her ample chest, the "bad girl" allure? I didn't think she was all that charismatic. The plot wasn't great, either, and I just didn't care enough about the characters to care what happened to them. The parts that were supposed to make me cry didn't, and the parts that were supposed to make me laugh didn't. The fact that Pudge and the Colonel spent so much time "looking for Alaska" yet didn't get a resolution made me feel unsatisfied by the end of the book. There are some big questions that Green tackles—the meaning of life, how to survive pain and suffering, what happens after you die, etc.—but I just didn't feel like they were answered sufficiently, and I found it difficult to believe a kid who spends much of the book drinking and smoking and pining after a girl would have such a revelation, just in time for his final exam and the end of the book. After reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had higher expectations for this book, and unfortunately it just didn't do it for me.