Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: John Green, Looking for Alaska

I was late hoppin on the John Green train, but what can you do. I read The Fault in My Stars first, which, of course, made me weep like a baby. Maybe I'll review it one of these days, who knows. I liked it a lot. John Green is one of those literary YA authors that you go to when you're looking for something meatier than the latest Sarah Dessen or Jennifer Echols, but are not quite in the mood for an emotionally- and mentally-exhausting epic tale like Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series. I would not put him in the same class as Francisco Stork or M.T. Anderson...he's just a little too earnest and his stories aren't quite as imaginative. But he is still a breath of fresh air and I am appalled with myself for not picking up one of his books sooner.

Anyways, that being said, Looking for Alaska was not as good as The Fault in My Stars. It was still enjoyable and well written, but something about it just didn't quite do it for me. I think it was probably the character of Alaska herself, who is your quintessential manic pixie dream girl (MPDG). The book takes place at a boarding school and focuses on a group of friends there: primarily Alaska, our MPDG who prides herself on being both wildly promiscuous and deeply literary, and the two dudes who are, naturally, madly in love with her (but don't really stand a chance): Miles (the narrator) and someone else whose name I cannot recall. It was pretty boring that they were so into this chick because there didn't seem to be all that much to her, except that she likes to smoke a lot of cigarettes and talk about what a slag she is, while simultaneously dazzling her suitors with her wit.

Miles is definitely the more interesting character and I'm relieved he was appointed as our narrator. I don't think I could have suffered through it if we had to hear Alaska pontificating about how damaged and quirky she is for 300 pages. Miles is a pretty insecure, scrawny high school senior who is nicknamed "Pudge" (as a joke). I could really relate to him and the various insecurities he had about going to a new high school and playing the game well enough to maybe make a friend or two. It's a story old as time but it is well done here; Pudge feels like a real human.

Anyway, the story itself is basically a coming of age tale of love found, love lost, self lost, self found. Like most John Green novels, not a whole lot actually happens in the book. Well, there is one major event, but that's it. Most of the book is just following the main characters around as they feel things and talk about those feelings. And it does basically work. I just wish Alaska had been more intriguing...but I suppose Alaska herself is not the point, so much as the "looking for" her.

I am conflicted about how many stars to give this. If it was a John Green-only scale, I would give it 3, because it's just not as good as some of his other books. But, that isn't the case; we are rating this alongside trainwrecks like the House of Night series, so I will give this 4 stars.