Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Since I've been reading book blogs, I've been hearing about the greatness of young adult fiction - and similarly, about the books authored by John Green.

While browsing in the library's teen section recently, I came across Looking for Alaska, John Green's debut novel, and decided to see what all the buzz was about. I hadn't read any of John Green's work, and aside from Beth Kephart's books, I haven't read much young adult fiction since I was a young adult (a million years ago).

And after reading this, I realized that the buzz is well-deserved.

Reading this shortly after the death of John Hughes made me compare Looking for Alaska to some aspects of The Breakfast Club. Both have some similarities, I think. This coming-of-age novel is a glimpse into the lives of a group of gifted, quirky, slightly adrift students at Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama.

There's Miles (nicknamed Pudge), fascinated by the last words of famous (and not-so-famous) people and quoting them on demand and as the situation warrants. There's Chip (nicknamed The Colonel), Pudge's roommate who enjoys memorizing alphabetical lists. There's a few other assorted hangers-on, Takumi and Lara among them.

And then there's Alaska, whose unconventional parents allowed her to choose her own name at age 7 and who doesn't have a nickname. She's brilliant, beautiful, mysterious, and extremely well-read. If she was real, Alaska Young would undoubtedly have a Book Blogger Appreciation Week award winning blog.

Life is not completely idyllic at Culver Creek along the wooded paths of finding oneself amid schoolwork, practical jokes and pranks, imbibing in too many bottles of wine, and the tangle of relationships. As the reader accompanies the characters along their journey of discovery, we accompany them with a growing, gnawing and knowing sense of foreshadowing and foreboding, thanks to chapter headings titled simply "one hundred nine days before" and "forty seven days before" and "twenty-nine days after."

Looking for Alaska is recommended for ages 12 and up. I think this has a powerful message (without being preachy) for young teens as well as those approaching their college years. (Especially the latter, the more I think of it.) While reading, I was reminded - oh so very much - of my own group of college friends and of two particular incidents that occurred during our collegiate years. Reading Looking for Alaska brought me right back to an emotional evening in the dormitory lounge, seven of us talking with the residential life director about one of our friends, about what we knew and when we knew it. About how I still think back on that night and that experience every time I still hear her name, more than 20 years later.

As I said earlier, I haven't read much young adult fiction since my teenage days, but I've been adding more to my repertoire after reading such great reviews on samples of the genre from other book bloggers. If you're like me and wish to push your literary horizons into the realm of young adult fiction, Looking for Alaska is a very good place to start.

My rating: 4.5. Solid, well-paced plot and very memorable characters. Occasionally, the language and cursing can be a little heavy. Hence the reason for the 4.5 instead of a full 5.

Other reviews:
Bart's Bookshelf
Becky’s Book Reviews
The Bluestocking Society
Book Gazing
Melody's Reading Corner
Not Enough Bookshelves
nothing of importance (my everyday blog)
Stella Matutina
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Things Mean a Lot
Tiny Little Reading Room
Out of the Blue
Em's Bookshelf
Sassymonkey Reads
Books & Other Thoughts
Book Addiction
Care's Online Bookclub
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Valentina's Room
Flight Into Fantasy
In Spring it is the Dawn
The 3Rs Blog
and last but certainly not least, John Green's blog

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