Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Well I'm back again for another book review.  This time we're going to step away from the speculative and the fantastic and focus more on slice of life.  Specifically, we're going to be reviewing Looking for Alaska by John Green.  The book follows Miles Halter, an awkward sixteen from Orlando, Florida about to set out for his first year of boarding schooling in Birmingham, Alabama.  Miles likes to collect the last words of famous people, and he goes to seek the great perhaps.  Along the way he is befriended by a quirky group of nerds, and he soon finds himself infatuated by the lovely Alaska, and yes, that is seriously her name.  Alaska lights up his word (she lights up a couple of his other things too) and soon Miles and the gang are in for an adventure full of drinking, smoking, sex and much more.  Oh, but all is not well, as you may notice by the count down at the start of each chapter.  

At the present moment speculative fiction dominates the YA market, especially dystopia and supernatural romance.  What makes John Green so unique is that he writes very down-to-earth slice of life books, and he is one of the most successful and beloved modern YA authors.  I didn't listen to this book until my freshman year of college, and I think that was to this book's benefit.  Boarding school is some much like college that, having lived the college life, I was able to relate to it pretty well.  Not only that, but Miles' group of friends had striking parallels to the friends that I made during my freshman year of college, though maybe that's because we have similar personalities and thus attract the same sorts of people.  

I loved the descriptions throughout this book, whether it be of the gang's wacky hijinks or just them sitting around, eating fried burritos and discussing philosophy.  If you're looking to get into John Green's books I'd recommend this as a pretty good starting point.  Besides Miles and Alaska I'd have to say that my favorite character would be The Colonel, whose real name is Chip, but he doesn't like to be called that.  He's their short and stocky friend who always comes up with the plans for their adventures, and he's obsessed with geography, you gotta love that.  Then again, I won first place in regional and state Literary Rally in geography, so maybe I'm biased.  The way the narration and dialogue are written are also quite excellent.  

Speaking of narration, the audiobook version, narrated by Jeff Woodman, is perfectly narrated.  There's a bit of guitar music during the beginning and end of the audiobook.  It was really nice and it fit the book quite well.  On a slightly less realities note, I know I mentioned sex and drinking and all that, but this book isn't too explicit with that stuff, all things considered.  

Having said all of these nice things, there were still a few issues, but this was John Green's first book after all.  John has stated that he intended this book to be a deconstruction of the Manic Pinkie Dream Girl trope, but it come across more as a novel about dealing with the death of a friend and loved one.  Okay, little spoilery, but at least I never told you who dies.  Anyway, to his credit John has acknowledged this and that was part of the reason he went on to write Paper Towns.  The other issues is that by the end Miles is practically screaming the book's message at the top of his lungs to the reader; with all the subtly of an eighteen wheeler at top speed.  Imagine if The Stage Manager from Our Town were shouting his final monologue into a megaphone at the top of his voice, and it's kind of like this.  Again, this was John's first book and he got better at subtly delivering his books' morals and messages as time went on.  

Despite a few rough patches towards the end this is still a great book, and one that I happily recommend.  If you're looking to see what all the buzz about John Green is about this is a great starting point.  Now that I've reviewed his first book, I think I might review the other John Green books as well.  I'll probably do that in the order I read them, so Will Grayson, Will Grayson is up next.  

In that case, I will see all of you next time.   

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