Looking for Alaska is a story of growing up and finding out what you mean to the world around you. Miles “Pudge” Halter has been flying under the radar of his own life, with very few friends and a great desire to find out what he’s been missing. When he decides to go away to boarding school at Culver Creek to seek his own “Great Perhaps” he launches himself into the great unknown, where he will test the bonds of friendship and expand his very small world to something much bigger and more meaningful. Along the way he is faced with the smaller questions of how to best prank those who throw you in a lake in your underwear, as well as the much larger questions of life and how we all fit into the grand scheme of things. With the help of a genius religion teacher who asks all the right questions and a small group of friends who teach him the real lessons in life, Miles finds out what it means to love, and to lose.
John Green writes Looking for Alaska within the restraints of a certain timeframe. He uses time and the space within as a literary device that not only builds tension towards an eventual climax, but also serves as a resolution after a traumatic event. The book is split into two sections, “Before,” and “After,” and uses a countdown approach, starting one hundred thirty-six days before the climax of the story. From the first page the reader is hooked, wondering what event looms one hundred thirty-six days ahead. With each passing day within the narrative we are brought closer to the moment of truth until we reach the climactic event of Alaska’s death.
In the second “After” section the count moves forward to where we are no longer counting down to an event, but counting up after it occurs. The narrative moves forward after the death of the title character, counting to one hundred thirty-six days after the climax of the story. In this second section the counting of days no longer creates a sense of suspense, but shows the slow but sure healing of the individuals in the story. It is as if each day brings them more closure and allows them to move on in their lives.
I found Green’s approach to the story using time as the framing device to be quite effective. From page one I was drawn into the story and wondered what climax awaited me. With each approaching scene the drama was built up until a highly emotional and raw event. As the countdown gets closer to the climax, the writing also becomes more emotional and the characters more real to me. After the traumatic events of the climax the counting away from that day helped me as a reader come down from the emotional high and settle back in to the narrative.
I really enjoyed this book. Looking for Alaska was the second novel I have read written by John Green (the first being The Fault in Our Stars) and I have to say that I am drawn to his style. He writes very believable, smart teen protagonists and tackles highly emotionally charged subjects that make me think about myself and my place in the world. In this book Green even manages to ease my mind in a situation where I might otherwise be bothered. I usually like books to have a very definitive ending, where there is no question as to the outcome for the characters. Looking for Alaska leaves the reader with many unanswered questions, the biggest being the cause of Alaska’s accident. Was it truly an accident caused by drinking and driving, or was it a suicide? I ordinarily would be dying to know the real answer, but in the resolution of the story Green makes it okay for me to wonder. He wraps up enough questions to make the ending satisfying while still allowing the reader to come to his/her own conclusions about the event in question.
I believe this book would be a good read for most any teen, although there are some adult themes addressed in the book. The teen characters smoke and drink, and even experiment with oral sex. Although these may be more mature situations, they are presented with a questioning nature and an innocence very fitting of a young adult. At no time are the situations tawdry or inappropriate, even for a younger audience. I feel as though teens reading Looking for Alaska will find a little something for everyone. There’s adventure, plenty of humor, and dramatic moments throughout. As an adult I was moved to literal tears at some moments and laughing out loud at others. I would highly recommend this books to both young adult and adult readers alike.