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Looking for Alaska was a book recommended to me by a younger friend of mine, she had recently read it and had been raving about it and although young adult fiction is not normally my genre of choice given that I am a little outside their usual age bracket I decided to give it a go.
- - PLOT - -
When Miles Halter joins Culver Creek he never really believes his life is going to be any different than it was at home in Florida, he will probably just end up as the same geek he was at high school there with not a lot of friends and working hard to keep up his grade point average to get into a good college, but he does hope that he will find the great perhaps. Miles keeps hoping that just perhaps he will find something to change him and shake up his rather boring geek led life, but never in his wildest dreams did he believe he would find it in the form of Alaska Young.
From the moment Miles moves into his dorm room at Culver Creek he is swept up in the whirlwind of new friendship with his roommate nicknamed 'The Colonel' by his friends, Takumi a Japanese student with a strange talent for rap, Lara a pretty young Romanian student and the gorgeous, funny, clever and very screwed up Alaska.
The five of them form a very close bond built on a shared love of computer games, smoking, pink wine and not getting caught by the Eagle, the schools 'never miss a thing' head teacher. But for Miles now nicknamed 'pudge' by his friends the thing that keeps him close to his friends is without a doubt the anchor that is Alaska Young, regardless of the fact she has a long term boyfriend who she keeps saying she will never cheat on, her crazy mood swings and serious anger issues 'Pudge' is still inexplicably drawn to her and like a fly stuck in a spiders web he has no way of freeing himself.
Pudge's first few terms at Culver Creek are spent in the happy highs of spending time with his friends, getting caught up in all sorts of weird plans and come backs to pranks pulled, drinking pink wine by the lake and smoking cigarettes in the smoking hole, all punctuated with some fairly interesting classes especially his religious studies class with Dr Hyde nicknamed the old man.
But when tragedy strikes the group of friends and things will never be the same between them, they learn in a few short months that sometimes things change and there are no answers.
- - OPINION - -
My first reaction while reading this novel was wow these teens are advanced for their years, there are a lot of references to smoking, drinking and sex in the novel and for me it certainly wasn't how my teenage years were lived but I do know that teenagers are getting into these type of things earlier so maybe that's where the inspiration came from. I do think there is a fine line for young adult authors to tread between making teenagers completely innocent virgin children which no one reading the novel is ever going to believe and making them feel like over the top out of control teenagers that your average teen cannot relate to.
Although I did find the characters a touch too over the top for my tastes I can see how this novel would appeal to the young adult market with the sense of teenage rebellion that most teens feel even if they don't act on their every impulse to jump on each each or go drinking illegally in the park with the cool kids from their school. I found the character of Miles or Pudge as he is later called interesting and I think most people reading Looking for Alaska will be able to relate to him in one way or another, he shows us what it's like to want to start over and be someone different in his school, someone better than he was before with friends and a better future. Also through his relationship and friendship with Alaska we see how much unrequited love really hurts and that's something most of us will have gone through in our lives at least once, unless we've been really really lucky. I found his heart aching love for Alaska really emotional and it reminded me of when I was a teenager and the pain that is there when you want someone who refuses to acknowledge you in that sense.
I really liked the before and after parts of the novel and thought this was an interesting way of breaking up the story, Green has also written the novel so that the chapters are titled the amount of days before and after the tragedy that hits the group. I've not seen that done in a novel before and it was definitely something I will remember from Green's writing style.
I generally found the novel more interesting towards the latter half as a non young adult reader as I found the before part of the novel a little too filled with smoking, drinking, pranking and sex, I certainly could have done without the teaching of oral sex tips and I would make a plea to parents of younger teenagers to maybe keep this novel until they are a little older as I thought that scene was a little too graphic for the younger end of the market.
The after part of the novel was a little darker as the friends search for clues in the aftermath of the tragedy that befalls them, why did it happen? Was it really an accident? What was that phone call really all about? Why the white flowers? None of the questions seem to have an obvious answer.
So all in all a good young adult novel if a little over the top in places, definitely aimed at the slightly older end of the young adult market in my opinion as the sexual references were a little too graphic in places. I did enjoy Looking for Alaska despite some obvious issues for me as a non adult reader I would give John Green 3 stars out of 5 for his debut novel.