*Please bear in mind the following review contains minor spoilers after the line break. The first half is spoiler-free.*
Looking for Alaska is now the second John Green novel I have read. I loved The Fault in our Stars and was really looking forward to tucking into another of his books.
Unsurprisingly it was an extremely well-written book, encapsulating perfectly a teenager’s view of the world. Miles (Pudge) the protagonist becomes someone that most teenagers can relate to. Unhappy in school, wanting to please his parents, average student who in the end just wanted more from life. His voice feels so genuine that even though in reality his character is a little ordinary, the story is brought to life by his first person narration.
What really intrigued me about the book was the continuing countdown to the event. the writing itself moves along at a steady pace but what Green does cleverly is put the suspense in the countdown rather than constantly bombarding us with it in the story itself. I personally thought that the countdown would bring me to the end of the book so I was surprised to hit it just over halfway through the novel.
When commenting on football, people say that it was a game of two halves (talk about stating the obvious!). But my thoughts on this book is that it is a story of two halves, the way in which Green juxtaposes the excitement for Miles in the first part with the heartbreaking circumstances of the second is what makes his writing so intelligent.
What is beautiful about the book is the way in which Green shows how all-consuming someone else’s life can become to your own and then beyond that how devastating the loss of that life can then become. Miles obviously falls in love with Alaska and that didn’t come as much of a shock! What was a shock though was that Alaska did not fall in love with Miles (at least maybe not at first) which by now we have been taught is what usually happens in books. I was expecting a love story which in many ways it was, just not the conventional one that I have come to expect in YA novels. Miles learns to love on a multitude of levels. Most noticeable and importantly he learns friendship.
Continually throughout the book Miles makes reference to people’s last words, but what becomes important is that you can know a person’s last words, but you can never know their last thoughts. Alaska’s death forces Miles to realise that he will never know what she was thinking in those last moments. This, however, is maybe the crux of the book, the need for acceptance over what we can’t control. In the end, Alaska’s guilt over her mother’s death would never bring her back and Mile’s insistence on blaming himself for Alaska’s death wouldn’t bring Alaska back. Miles learns that life can only truly move on when you have learnt acceptance. Alaska devastatingly portrays a life without just that, her inability to move on from her mother’s death in the end ruins her own life.
Green does not shy away from reality and what I believe he excels at in this novel is his portrayal of Miles’, quite selfish, attitude towards Alaska’s death. Especially as a character who really hasn’t known her very long compared to the other characters in the novel. And yet he seems to stake some kind of claim to grieve over Alaska. Much in the way that people do when they suffer the loss of a loved one. Most people (even though they may not admit it) think of themselves at times of grief and what becomes important is how someone’s death effects them.
I happily give this an 8/10, for a novel that deals with love and loss in equal measure. The book is about teenagers, for teenagers and wonderfully written from a teenager’s point of view, something that I think Green does so brilliantly. So many writers try to get inside a teenager’s head (which I’m guessing is quite a difficult place to be!) and sadly many of them fail to feel authentic. John Green, I am happy to say, is not one of them.