Looking for Alaska by John Green

Another book by John Green, the first I read was The Fault in Our Starsand I liked LfA just as much as I did TFioS. His writing style just works with me, and the books are so easy to devour very quickly, because the writing just flows. I think it really is a very good high school story. More specifically it is a boarding school story, one centred around Miles, a kid who has come to find the Great Perhaps in another state, where his father went to boarding school. And it’s a very interesting story, filled with tragedy, love, humour and pranks.

Miles was one of those kids who just didn’t really have many friends. I don’t recall him saying he was bullied or anything, he just didn’t quite find the right people. However at Culver Creek Preparatory School, he finds people who he can connect with, one happens to be his room-mate, ‘The Colonel’, another a girl called Alaska, and a guy called Takumi. The year progresses and the four of them become pretty close, and they go to class, smoke, drink, engage in some sexual activities, the usual. They also have a habit for pranks, and I have to say they do some pretty clever and creative stuff, my school certainly did nothing like that!

Miles has an interesting ‘hobby’ of reading biographies of people, and remembering their last words. Which indeed is where he came up with the ‘Great Perhaps’. And it is also important for another theme of ‘escaping the Labyrinth’, which can be interpreted as escaping the pain of the world. This theme is also explored through the religious studies class, which I find fascinating. I really wish I had studied something like it at school, because it gives a very interesting perspective on a variety of religions. I wouldn’t have wanted to study it in my final years, when the grades mattered most and there were limited numbers of subjects I could complete, but that sort of education is important. It’s not about saying this religion is better than another, but rather discussing how all the religions deal with the similar issues, and what they are trying to tell you.

Looking for Alaska fanart by DeviantArt user Doodleprincess97
Looking for Alaska fanart by DeviantArt user Doodleprincess97

Something I find hard to comprehend is the culture in America of moving away from home for college/uni (I know this is high school, but still I think boarding schools are way more prevalent in the US than here in Aus for high school). For us here, you only really move away from home if you live rurally so travelling to uni would be impossible, you are moving interstate for a different course or you are just really set on moving. Our culture is more set on living at home during university, or perhaps finding a share house. College dorms and that sort of thing do exist, but they are really for rural, interstate and international students more than anything. Part of the reason is that we don’t have quite as many choices when it comes to university, in addition which university you go to isn’t as big a priority than it is in the US, they are of a similar standard and varying levels of ‘prestige’ (which doesn’t always matter). Plus, which is actually contradictory, we don’t have to pay as much to study (considerably less, max tuition for commonwealth supported places is around $10,000), we can put it on an interest free government loan called HECS, and forget about it until we earn over a certain amount, and then slowly pay it off. That would seem like we should be more prepared to move out since we don’t have huge student debts to worry about, but we’re not. And another reason may be that scholarships aren’t really the same here as there, we don’t have sporting scholarships that get you into a uni, you can get money if you apply and are successful, but it won’t get you into the course, so you don’t need to travel across the country just so you get a scholarship and into the course. And admission is so different too, it’s usually all based on Year 12 (senior year) results, no extra-curriculars, no references, no essays, no tests, no interview, so we don’t have to think about moving interstate usually.

Anyway, so reading about living in a ‘college’ environment is quite interesting to me, since it seems so strange. Obviously not everyone in the US moves, but, I just find the different. The relationships between the teachers and the student are just seemingly different because of the boarding environment. Sure most of the teachers aren’t around after classes, but the environment is different, because it is a closer community. Which makes the event all the more tragic. Also the presence of ‘The Eagle’ makes things interesting. I mean, I don’t think the story could work if everyday everyone heads home, and sees each other infrequently.

I found the structuring of the story very clever. It is divided into two sections, Before and After. The exact event which marks the transition, I will not reveal because it is a spoiler, but because it is John Green you can be sure that it isn’t a happy and joyous moment. And I think lots of people have these sorts of moments where they almost recount the time before it as some strange completely different time, to the one after the event. And it need not be tragic! But this structure of the book definitely made things very foreboding from the beginning, and as you approach, the tension just builds as you become nervous as to what the event is going to be. The after section is definitely in contrast to the before, as people are left reeling at the event. And they are trying to figure out how it happened (this is a major aspect). And it raises the question of whether it matters how or why something happened. And what happens when you can’t find straight answers, and are left with ambiguity. You really just have to accept it, and try to move on, which isn’t that easy.

I think I really like John’s writing style because I can just devour the stories pretty quickly. I can also relate to his teenage characters quite a bit compared to others, because they are intelligent, ‘nerdy’ and ‘awkward’. I don’t really think it’s a book I’d be wanting to reread anytime soon, it’s for me just a book to read once or perhaps many years down the track. That by no means makes it a bad book, I quite liked the book, it was moving and thought-provoking, and written really well. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of John’s books (I already have bought all of them, it’s just a matter of getting around to reading them!).

So what are your high school experiences? Any great pranks? Did you move away from home?

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2 thoughts on “Looking for Alaska by John Green

  1. Daniel, I was inspired by your insistence that I “better get around to reading [The Book Thief]” to bring back the blog to review it.
    My review of the prologue will come out on Saturday, March 8. The reviews will then come throughout the week, and there will be no more posts on weekends.

  2. The only thing I know about it at this point is that it takes place during World War II. Also, there is someone named Liesel.

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