Todd's Reviews > Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska by John Green
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did not like it
bookshelves: 12s-13s, mature, sad, 12s-13s-contemporary-realistic

Wow. I must've skipped a bunch of pages or read the Hebrew translation or was having root canal or something because that was one terrible book. All those awards-- WHAT??? Such a clumsy story— every move of the author was heavy-handed and so transparent I felt like I was a fly on John Green's ceiling watching him go "Oh that's good-- oh that's just precious" and fall asleep in his soup again.
Miles—I mean "Pudge,"as he is deemed within minutes of his arrival at his School of Great Perhaps— may be looking for Alaska throughout this story but I sure knew her right away. She's the pretty girl who's even prettier because she's a bit damaged and makes you feel like you have a chance with her because she's a flirt. Yes, she's a hopelessly thin character, as are they all (with the exception of The Colonel). Takumi, for example, who is supposed to be one of the Big Four around whom this story revolves, is completely characterized by his unrealistic rap improvs ("My rhymin' is old school, sort of like the ancient Romans/ The Colonel's beats is sad like Arthur Miller's Willy Loman") and basically disappears from the story until required by the plot to re-emerge with More Information. Lara, Pudge's first girlfriend, is so bland she is given a Russian accent complete with long e's for short i's ("I put the stuff een the gel... and then I deed the same thing een Jeff's room") to prevent her from evaporating off the page and into THEEN ARE. In fact, each character is carefully provided with a shtick, often a savant-like "talent" that would in reality win game shows but is meant to be That Thing That Makes Him Special: The Colonel can remember capitals of countries to the point of extreme autism! Pudge knows the last words of famous people— only he's so doggone quirky that he reads the biography but not the work of the famous person! And our precious Alaska? She keeps stacks and stacks of books in her room that she intends to read (when she's done selling cigarettes to high school kids, I guess), called her life library (or something), but has wrestled with life's Big Questions alongside some very Heavy Thinking Authors, and can recite poetry, of course. Everybody is way too philosophical and literary for their own good, but god forbid the reader is allowed to think. Lest you miss the point, every moment is interpreted for you:
I finally understood that day at the Jury: Alaska wanted to show us we could trust her. Survival at Culver Creek meant loyalty, and she had ignored that. But then she'd shown me the way. She and the Colonel had taken the fall for me to show me how it was done, so I would know what to do when the time came

Ok, then—I guess that's what happened, except that's just not the way high school kids work.
Even word choice reveals fear we won't get it; if an author has to tell you FIVE TIMES in the book that the character "deadpanned" instead of "said" (the Colonel"deadpanned" three times and Pudge, just a little less dry I guess, "deadpanned" twice) then either the dialogue is not written well or the author believes it is not written well. (The former, at least).
So just hanging with these kids leaves one searching for a third dimension, but then the story itself pretty much jumps genres halfway through, from slacker-YA-Holden-mentioned-on-the-back-cover to straight mystery. Why'd she do what she did? Lest I "spoil" this story for you, I won't go into this part, but suffice it to say the above question is left out in the sun to rot while we are forced to look on, sniffing the decay.
The story doesn't work in any genre anyway. I know what the story is supposed to do— make me fall in love with Alaska, feel all warm and cozy when the four friends smoke cigarettes, shoot the breeze, and look out for one another, and care when one of them screams with cosmic agony, but alas. Maybe if I wasn't basically tapped on the shoulder and demanded these reactions I would be better at having them, but lines fall flat and soggy like cigarettes tossed casually into some cliche prep-school lake:
The Colonel let go of my sweater and I reached down and picked up the cigarettes. Not screaming, not through clenched teeth, not with the veins pulsing in my forehead, but calmly. Calmly. I looked down at the Colonel and said, "F— you."

My first Kindle read, too!

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 8, 2010 – Shelved
March 21, 2010 – Shelved as: 12s-13s
March 21, 2010 – Shelved as: mature
March 21, 2010 – Shelved as: sad
June 13, 2014 – Shelved as: 12s-13s-contemporary-realistic

Comments Showing 1-45 of 45 (45 new)

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Rebecca thanks, i love a good scathing review! the rap is particularly choice.

Janna Haha, whoops, so much for my recommendation.

I understand your criticisms, mostly because I think what you are saying about being told things that we've already been shown is especially true of his most recent book, Paper Towns. However, I didn't find that really bothered me in Looking for Alaska and obviously I really liked the book.

Oh well, at least we both loved Speak. ;)

message 3: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd there ya go, janna-- find the common ground!

Katrina ... I want to say only that Lara is supposed to be a bland character to illustrate how much Miles exalts Alaska, in a sort of I-love-her-so-every-girl-that's-not-her-sucks way.

message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny This was a helluva clumsy story— every move of the author was heavy-handed and so transparent I felt like I was a fly on John Green's ceiling watching him go "Oh that's good-- oh that's just precious" and fall asleep in his soup again.

Can you be heavy-handed and transparent at the same time? But all the same, that's a wonderful sentence.

message 6: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd thanks!... but why can't you be heavy-handed and transparent at the same time? doesn't transparent just mean you see the workings of something? heavy-handed, to me, seems more similar to transparent than contradictory because the reader is told what to think by glaringly obvious literary mechanisms. curious how you think of it.

message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny I guess I just thought it was an inconsistent metaphor. But sometimes things that break the rules work out really well!

Stacey Lucky wow what a horrible book for your first kindle read :(

Sana Khan i was annoyed by the constant use of "deadpanned" too. and "lower back" haha

Molly This book totally sucked. A lot of ppl recommended it to me -_-

Astrid Everybody seems to love this book - and I just don't get why. There's the rap, deep thoughts explained in detail over and over again in case the readers aren't deep enough to understand them the first time, the ee annoyed me because I know so many eastern european people who lost this part of their accent completely, and the "Alaska is a pranking genius, so we really need to play pranks all the time, because pranks are a big deal in 11th grade, abd Alaska likes sex andreading too, but WOAH prankig is so much fun, anyway". I think it annoyed me even more than the constant "deadpanned" and the fact that I knew the big "before/after" plot-twist and the rest of the story at Alaska's first appearance.
Maybe that could be my awesome talent at a school like The Creek...

message 12: by Ruby (new)

Ruby Johnson My biggest pet peeve is when authors try their best to make everyone quirky and imperfect and end up creating horribly unrealistic characters.

message 13: by Holly (new) - rated it 1 star

Holly I've never sympathised with a review more. This book was just bland.

message 14: by Lucy (new) - rated it 1 star

Lucy omg 'THEEN ARE' lmao great review :)

Kayla Riley I hate it and like it at the same time?! XP. .

message 16: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd That's so weird Kayla because I hate it and like to hate it at the same time.

Outrageous Kitten I loved the book but I can totally see why you didn't. Amazing review.

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

I finished like I didn't like it that much I already read the fault in our stars and really liked it and wanted to read more John green this one seemed popularly but I didn't like it very much it bored be a lot

Chelsea Thank you so much for validating many of the thoughts and feelings I had reading this book. I must be pretty out of touch with today's young readers because I just don't get the appeal.

message 20: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd Chelsea- no author has made me feel more out of touch with young readers than john green. What's weird to me is that I am actually a total sucker for the character-driven YA that features broken-but-pure-hearted protagonists as first-person narrators. I'm a sitting duck for Mr. Green but I am repulsed by his books!

Chelsea Yes, yes, I'm right here in the same boat with you! I loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example. I am drawn to the YA genre in general, despite my 30 years of age. And John Green's YouTube personality lulls me into a trusting, vulnerable state of mind. I expect him to be a certain kind of author, and so far, he just isn't.

Gizem Yüce Perks of being a wallflower? Nooo!!! Omg when i read that one, I was like "omg when it's going to end" I put it sooo many times away. I only liked the beginning and the end. The rest was just hasdjklsh idk.

message 23: by Hope (new) - rated it 1 star

Hope Kitterman The best part of reading a terrible book is reading the hilarious negative reviews that follow. You said everything I was thinking.

Julia O Yes!!!!

message 25: by Alix (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alix Laing I really enjoyed the book but I can see where you're coming from. I thought that there were turns in the book that I didn't expect and were very interesting and kept me so excited to read the next page. I guess I just feel that the story was relatable, well written since it kept me hanging, and I enjoyed the dynamic of the characters. I also liked that I didn't always want to like Alaska, or Pudge for that matter. Anyway, I was so sad at the end, but now so so glad that I read it!!

message 26: by Emma (last edited Dec 04, 2014 07:50PM) (new)

Emma Cooper When I started the book I would have strongly disagreed with you only because a). all of the hype surrounding the book and author, b).the many recommendations and c). the fact that I had just started it. Now I strongly agree with you. At one point I stopped reading the book for a month or so because of the dry writing and predictability. Oh the new good guy (Miles/Pudge) is going to fall in love with this amazing girl (Alaska) because he's a hormonal teenage boy separated from his parents and the girl is unavailable and attractive. He will also fall into the drinking and smoking trap because where would the plot go without it and his dad who fell into the same trap warned his son not to live the same boarding school life he did. I really loved the comment about Lara and Takumi because they both were just completely forgotten a little past halfway in the book. Like Pudge had Lara as a girlfriend for .2 of a second, but then totally forgot about her because of his "love" for Alaska. The ending also mad me angry because the way Green described Pudge's reaction to the loss was that Pudge and the Colonel were the ONLY people out of the whole school that could be legitimately sad about Alaska. I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt this way.

Isabelle Weird that you thought John Green was trying to make us fall in love with Alaska because I would completely disagree. But to each their own opinion, I suppose.

Isabelle Weird that you thought John Green was trying to make us fall in love with Alaska because I would completely disagree. But to each their own opinion, I suppose.

Isabelle Weird that you thought John Green was trying to make us fall in love with Alaska because I would completely disagree. But to each their own opinion, I suppose.

message 30: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd Of course you are entitled! But why do you think we are not meant to love or at least sympathize with her?

Monica interestingbto see what others think....i absolutely love john green's writing is so poetic....i love, love, love his work.

message 32: by Rachel (new) - added it

Rachel Worley Thank you for your review! The first of John Green's work I read was the Fault in Our Stars. I did enjoy it, falling in love with the characters and then having my heart ripped out. I can not say the same for Paper Towns, as I was highly disappointed and have no idea why so many recommend it. I felt no connection with the characters or attachment by the time I completed the book. It was rather hard to get through, and I lost interest quickly. I figured I would read Looking for Alaska, giving John Green another chance, but I trust your review confirms my doubts.

message 33: by Piper (new) - rated it 1 star

Piper nailed it.

Sammy Otoo Interesting review! Like many on here, i actually really enjoyed the book, and yet I cannot particularly disagree with most of your review.

While I didn't notice it at first, I can see in retrospect that the characters were a bit bland or unrealistic at times, although I don't think they were bland or unrealistic throughout the entire book. John Green covered this up very well in my opinion, however, with his rather poetic writing, especially in the "After" section.

Every point and/or symbolic occurrence in the novel is over-analyzed, but I don't believe they are over-analyzed to the point where it breaks the novel. I have read other books where "the point" of certain occurrences is left intentionally vague for the reader to interpret, and I can admit the process of figuring things out yourself can make the process of reading more fun, but I was still able to enjoy reading the novel.

The one part of your review I truly disagree with is the nitpicking of John Green's word choice. Maybe it's just me, but I see no true significance in choosing words like "deadpanned" over "said"; while "deadpanned" has more character than "said", both words would get the point across to the reader. I can comprehend your assumption that it's John Green trying to hard to convey emotion, but I still believe that particular point is jumping the gun a little bit.

Thanks for the review! It's always interesting to see a different point of view, especially when it's well-written and funny.

message 35: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd thanks, sammy. appreciate your reading it and your thoughtful comments!

message 36: by Manav (new)

Manav Mathews First I want to note that I have never so enjoyed reading a comment whose content I totally disagree with. You can really get your point across effectively and humorously.

As for my disagreement, I can definitely see your point of view, and it's quite hard to argue with the hollowness of both Lara and Takumi, but I loved the book despite that flaw. I found the book to be one of the most insightful YA books I have read. Perhaps I'm just one of John Green's flies on the wall. I thought that Alaska was a great character with depth, one who personified Hamlet's question "To be or not to be?". In fact, every time Alaska's "labyrinth" was mentioned, I thought of Hamlet contemplating suicide. She was a character who was intentionally aggravating and unattainable for Miles, because that set up the "after" part of the book.

I also disagree that the book actually changed genre (or attempted to) after the tragedy. Miles and the Colonel being detectives was not the focus of this section, in my opinion. Instead, it was their emotional issues and their different ways of dealing with tragedy that were important, hence why at the end, instead of solving the mystery, as one would presumably do at the end of a mystery book, Miles and the Colonel and Takumi decided that how Alaska died didn't matter, only the fact that it happened. I think throughout the whole book, the theme of unsatisfied/cynical/jaded teenagers trying to deal with their personal issues ( the Colonel's poverty, Alaska's emotional mess, Miles's Great Perhaps) remained.

Thanks for your review. When I finished this book, I had kind of put it on a pedestal in my mind. Your review pointed out some flaws I had not noticed before.

Spynonu Glad I am not the only one who missed why this was such fantastic book.

Marianne I pretty much enjoyed reading this review than reading the book. I don't hate very many books. This one included. But, this review was exactly what the book was for me.

Lindy Read fault in the stars. Same author, much better book.

Charlotte i hate this book

Hannah I'm really feel bad for the people that don't understand this book. I know a lot of adults tend to not get this book, but let's be honest, they didn't deal with a lot of mental issues kids can relate with today. That's one thing I loved about this book was that I could relate. I related with Alaska on so many levels. I don't smoke or drink but I connect on the fact that I get angry and sad and lash out and have no reasons for it. I know another thing people say is that it was boring. BUT LOOK AT YOUR OWM GOD DAMN LIFE!! IS IT ANY MORE EXCITING?? This book is true it's purpose. It's not supposed to entertain you, it's supposed to teach you a lesson through a story and that's one main reason I admire John Green's writing is because he teaches people beautiful lessons through beautiful stories. Not everything is supposed to be happy. Not everything is supposed to be exciting. I've also noticed a lot of hate towards characters weird traits. But everyone has a weird trait. Everyone is different. And if you expect every character to be like the other...that's just unrealistic. I understand if people don't get the point but honestly...I feel bad because it taught me a lot.

message 42: by Maria (new) - rated it 1 star

Maria " the point of extreme autism!" I'M IN LOVE WITH THIS REVIEWX TYSM!!

Alexis I felt like this author was trying too hard to sound smart, intellectual and/or “deep”. I can’t stand authors who pretend that the epiphanies of their characters are so profound- because in reality they think they are profound which makes me think the authors is full of themselves. Which was all I thought of when I read this book. That this author was very pretentious

message 44: by Anna (new) - rated it 1 star

Anna Sobczak Totally agree!

message 45: by Hilary (new)

Hilary Did you really not like the story?

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