Lauren Fidler's Reviews > Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green
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because this book is written in first-person narration from the perspective of a 16-year-old boy, it will garner many comparisons to "catcher in the rye." and i'm the first person to call salinger-ripoff when i see it. i didn't really get that vibe here. pudge is far too mentally balanced for that comparison to fly. instead,john green's "looking for alaska" evoked shades of "to kill a mockingbird" for me - which is strange in the sense that the only discernible parallel is that they're both set in the alabama. i guess, what i mean is, green writes a protagonist who speaks with an older authority that his age really shouldn't permit. he is an old soul, trapped in the body of a young man. or an older man, waxing poetic about the trials and tribulations of his youth. i can never tell which. and scout has a similar feel - someone coming back to their childhood with an air of wisdom and insight that can only be acquired or gleaned from the experience of living and suffering through adolescence.

does that make any sense at all?

at any rate, it's not the narration or writing style that makes this novel so difficult for me to review. i liked the quick, glib conversations between the teens in the first half of the novel. and, even though the "before" and "after" are clearly foreshadowed in their "bridge to terabithian" ways, the predictability is almost sweet, never offensive.

so what is the hold up, then?

there's alaska herself. a teenager too perfect in her imperfections. hot, moody, feminist, rebellious, intelligent, wildy self-destructive, and damaged. she is the ideal crush for a psychologically unscarred kid like "pudge" (whose real name i forgot within moments of the colonel giving him this appellation). she's never quite reachable, to miles/pudge or to the reader, which accentuates her allure but also makes her inevitable storyline feel forced.

other plot points also fall flat. the questions of teenaged loyalty that get raised in the first half of the book seemingly evaporate by the end of the second half (the emotional schism between takumi and the colonel/pudge most poignantly pointing out that the loyalty and honor they all craved adherence to was never the strong bond they thought it was). in fact, it is almost takumi who becomes the most sympathetic character, as he plaintively tells miles that is not the only one with a monopoly on latent, unresolved feelings for alaska, and the second half of the book suffers greatly from the loss of a star that burned too bright at first.

the biggest gripe, i'm guessing, is the "graphic sex" which includes one comical description of a "blow job" (which reminded me of an old holy cross folkloric tale of a girl who used the term literally) and some descriptions of watching two porn stars go at it doggy-style. i agree that those scenes elevate this novel out of the realm of young adult - i'd feel uncomfortable with anyone under 15 reading this novel - but that taps into my whole "this feels older than young adult" thing the reader gets with the narration. my problem with the sex isn't that it's graphic (and i certainly don't consider it gratuitous); it's that it makes teaching this novel at a high school level nearly impossible. and that's a shame because kids would eat this book up.

for me, my biggest complaint is the inevitable movie that this book will spawn. let's all pause for the cataclysmic casting of an electric blue-toed selena gomez or some other disney starlet as alaska before we get into the nitty-gritty of lost meaning and stunted emotional impact.

so, here i am. at a crossroads. my gut is saying that this is solidly a 3.5 star novel and i must decide whether or not to give it 3 or 4 based on my overall impression. if i were a teenager myself, caught in the furiously addictive pacing and drama of the text, i would have given it four stars already. but, here i am, not particularly young anymore, coming at it from the perspective of one who has already lived through this chapter of my life, pondered these great questions, and made my uncomfortable peace with the great perhaps. and maybe that's the most tragic thing of all.
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Kwoomac i own this book. do you want it ?

Brandy Clearly you're far more mature than I am; I'm one of the people who ate this book up. But I see your points, and I think they're all valid, particularly the criticisms that Alaska is too perfectly flawed to be fully realistic--but I think we're seeing Alaska through Pudge's eyes, which recognized that she had problems and flaws but was aware that that's what drew him to her. (Too lazy to go back and break that into several not-run-on sentences, sorry.) So--to us, as adults, we can see that Alaska isn't necessarily All That, but to Pudge, she is, and that's the difference.
In a way it makes me sad that this won the Printz, and Abundance of Katherines took the honor, because Green's third book--Paper Towns--really brought together the best of both of them, and yet was completely shut out of the awards. (Though lots of people will say that was because Green repeats a lot of elements and plot structures; I say he's telling different stories about similar people, and they're about people similar to his fan base, so it works for me.) But that's a different conversation.

Lauren Fidler i really agree about Paper Towns - it's frustrating to me that Green relies so heavily on a formula (and, yes, there are variations to the characters that make it work, but they're still very formulaic). i do think PT got it more right - of course, it might just be because i liked the vengeance they wreaked before she disappeared.

i hadn't really considered the bias of pudge's eyes as a viable reading of "alaska" which is curious since i'm the first to call "unreliable narrator" when reading with my students. i guess what i meant was that her problems are exactly the problems that would make her just safely dangerous enough to be alluring to pudge. does that make more sense?

on an unrelated note, you should totally friend my aunt karen (kwoomac) - she just started following your reviews. she reads more than anyone i've ever met and she's good for an interesting recommendation or book chat!

shameless plug ended!

Brandy If you want something different from him, I think his new one (The Fault in Our Stars) will be a deviation from the formula. Also look for his zombie-apocalypse e-novella, Zombicorns. It's not his usual standard but it's still pretty fantastic.

I get what you're saying about Alaska, that she's a bad influence in the way that only a good kid can be. At least, I think that's what you're saying.

And woo, look at me, all these FOLLOWERS and FRIENDS. I'm going to let GoodReads-Celebrity so STRAIGHT to my head.

Lauren Fidler i've heard of zombiecorns - one of tim's students did an excellent youtube film of one of the chapters, i think. and we've TOTALLY ordered our copy of The Fault in Our Stars. we're definitely fans over here, if you couldn't necessarily tell from my review =o)

you are a total goodreads' celebrity! last week i became the #190 goodreads reviewer - you'd have thought i won the lottery or became a vice presidential nominee or something.

Brandy I've been waiting until I saw cover art before preordering TFIOS. (I mean, I love John Green, but the hardback cover of Paper Towns? Ick; I waited for PB on that one, and then bought 2 copies, because he was signing at ALA and the only book they had left when I got there was the one I already had.) Anyway, there's a COVER now and I LIKE IT so I'm off to my local indie bookstore this weekend, I guess, to preorder. Husband used to work there; maybe if I ask nicely they can look for a Hanklerfished copy for me.)

ANYWAY. Yeah, it didn't occur to me that you were actually a fan of John Green, since pretty much all your reviews of his books are middling. There's just something in his writing that totally speaks to the teen I was, makes me glad I'm not that person anymore, and gives me hope for who I might still become, if that makes any sense. Though maybe I'm just jealous that he hangs around with all the teen-writer cool kids, and anyone who is a friend of Libba Bray's is someone I want to be.

Uh-oh, you're 190? That's YOU breathing down my neck? time to start turning some pages and reading faster! MUST REVIEW MORE AND STAY AHEAD OF LAUREN (even if she totally cheats by posting Elmo books, as if I don't have a review up of Moo Baa La La La).

Lauren Fidler we figured the cover would be okay (we're hoping for a hanklerfish, too). i guess my chief complaint with john green is that he's so darn witty, i just want him to be above sarah dessen in the grand scheme of plot construction. i've read three or four of his books and they're all virtually the same: safely eccentric-named hyper-nerdy male protag leaves home (via school or road trip or both), meets safely rebellious girl, hangs with boy who talks like a reject from the movie "swingers", pranks someone using pee, discovers adult truths about life usually through some form of heartbreak or sense of loss. while i think the content is more engaging and more mature (and thus more compelling) than dessen, the formula bugs me. if i can spot the green-archetype right away, i know where i'm headed. and i guess i just want him to be less obvious than that. i think he's an excellent writer, but heavy reliance on a formula is a negative.

haha. i am comin' fer ya! by the way, i only review children's books that i've read over 25 times. i think if you read something - anything - that many times, you deserve to be able to review it. and i'm stickin' to that!

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