Customer Review

70 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK But Not As Amazing As Everyone Seems To Say, July 31, 2009
This review is from: Looking For Alaska (Hardcover)
Story Overview

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.

My Thoughts

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!
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 10, 2010 9:25:01 AM PDT
I completely agree. You summed up my feelings exactly. It's tough because I am in a grad school class where this book is a required reading and my professor LOVES this book and I'm supposed to right a paper on it. The trouble is I'm having a hard time getting excited about digging into characters that I find flat and a plot that, to me, feels contrived. Young Adult, by the way, is category created by the publishing world to help market and sell books. Yes, the books usually have teen protagonists, but the writing and topics can be just as deep, troubling and engrossing as "adult fiction." YA often has books on drugs, sex, suicide, rape, violence, etc. so they are not trying to protect kids with this category. I think it does a disservice to books (like Twilight) that adult readers feel guilty for reading books for "children." Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Shakespeare were not writing to a teen audience yet these are all high school English staples. I say level the playing field to just whether a book is well-written, or not.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 10, 2010 5:56:12 PM PDT
Jennifer says:
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It was a pleasure to read, and I'm glad I'm not alone in having these feelings about this book. I see so many rave reviews about it!!! I can't believe you are studying this book in a grad school class!! It hardly seems worthy of writing a paper about! Good luck with that.

And thanks for the info on YA. I appreciated your feedback on it!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2012 9:25:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 21, 2012 9:26:05 AM PDT
cassiolalola says:
'right' a paper?

Posted on Jan 5, 2013 4:49:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 5, 2013 4:49:38 PM PST
Thank you for saying so concisely exactly what I felt reading this book. My overall feeling at the end was "meh." You put it much more eloquently.

Posted on May 22, 2014 7:39:25 PM PDT
Jennifer, I agree with you wholeheartedly. This book had no emotional pull; I, too, was left with a "meh" feeling at the end. I did not like or feel anything for the characters. The ending felt a bit too pedantic, hitting the reader over the head repeatedly with the book's message, instead of illustrating the message throughout the body of the work. I was just underwhelmed.

Posted on Jun 6, 2014 8:09:04 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 6, 2014 8:11:39 AM PDT
P. J. Rager says:
I was looking at my list of books on Kindle and I could not remember reading this book Looking for Alaska. I completely put it out of my mind. Possibly because I am not a young adult and did not find the characters very close to my heart. After reading Jennifer "Jenners" review to help remind me of what the story was about I also didn't find this book as emotionally charged and powerful as so many other reviewers indicated. Meh is a good one for this book!

Posted on Jun 13, 2014 1:55:17 PM PDT
Laura R. says:
I like a good YA novel from time to time, though when I was a YA I was heavily into Palaniuk and Easton Ellis and less into books that catered to people my age. I've read several books by John Green, and though I can see what people see in him, I've never experienced the fervor so many people have for his books. To be completely honest, I read this book about a year ago but didn't really even remember much about it until I read your synopsis. Most of the characters Green writes (as far as the 3 books I've read by him) follow the same general arc. And I felt the same apathy for those characters as well. I almost feel embarrassed about it, since so many of his books have "seriously changed" my friends' lives. I guess I'm just missing something.

Posted on Jul 17, 2014 4:47:07 AM PDT
Kristi M.A. says:
That's exactly how I felt about this book too!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 24, 2014 4:21:57 PM PDT
alexandra says:
Yeah they said " right" instead of write, are you a grammar nazi, or a critic?!
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