“Looking for Alaska” - by John Green
Picture a soon-to-be great rock band who are just getting ready to bust out, but are still rough and raw and practicing in a garage somewhere. You want to be in on the band then because you’ll get their more unrefined sound before they become too hugely popular. Because you know that when they do break it big, they’ll still be great, but they will also likely be slightly more commercial and thus, more widely approachable. That’s kind of what happened with John Green’s most recent, enormously-popular novel “The Fault In Our Stars”.

“Looking for Alaska” is his first book, his garage band book, and it reads quicker and more unrefined than “Stars”. The more I think about it, the more I realize I really enjoyed this one. Similar to “Stars” (and I’d guess probably all of this author’s books), there are many heavy issues to deal with; such as death, grief, and being out in the world, on one’s own, for the first time. Also like in “Stars”, the kids in “Alaska” are wonderful because they are smart. They study hard. They value books and knowledge. But they still cut up, pull pranks, and get in trouble. Mr. Green thus shows that cool kids CAN also be the intelligent ones and I dig that.

Quick plot summary: Miles (the MC), age 16, leaves behind his boring Florida life and heads to a boarding school in Alabama with the singular goal of seeking the “Great Perhaps”. At the school in Birmingham, he quickly bonds with a small group of friends and begins a fresh, new, rich, eventful life. He also falls in love with Alaska - the beautiful, enigmatic, unstable, fun-loving, intelligent, challenging, unpredictable, sometimes dark, yet always spectacular - girl from down the hall. Alaska’s tragic life and Miles’ turbulent relationship with her turn out to be the things that teach him the most about himself and about living.

“Looking for Alaska” has several unique elements which keep things interesting. The chapters are numbered like “160 days before” and “98 days before” and so on. So you are constantly reminded that something big is coming up and yes, before it arrives you pretty much know what to expect. Another cool thing is that Miles has a penchant for quoting the last lines of famous people and he does so throughout the story. It’s cool to hear so many actual historical last words and it inspires the reader to maybe come up with a similar “thing” like that of their own.

Speaking of Miles, the real draw of this book is in him as a character and in the other principal players as well. Miles grows, learns, loves, wins, loses, aches and all the while he philosophizes about the meaning of it all. His roommate Chip, or The Colonel, is a funny, genius-type kid with a short man’s complex and a fierce loyalty to his mates. And, of course, there is Alaska. The perfect girl you can’t help but love, but who’s also perfectly broken to the point where you know you can never fully know her. Everyone else in the book is also unique, real and intriguing. John Green is a master at creating people you want to know intimately and be pals with....so much so that you truly feel all their highs and lows as you read about them. If you look through my list of books I've read and written about, you'll see lots of high imagination and fantasy. But I'll always branch out to John Green's work because I dig his stellar writing and masterful character creation.

This book, according to reviews on Amazon, is targeted at grade 9 and up, but that seems a little young to me. As I wrote earlier, there are many heavy issues in the story (the heaviest one being - SPOILER ALERT - suicide) so in my mind, it’s better for more mature readers maybe 16 and up. Like with most YAish books, I came away from this one with the strong conviction that parents simply MUST make a point to KNOW what their kids are reading and to be there to help them reflect on and learn from the content they are consuming. Here's a specific example. In “Looking for Alaska” there is a girl on boy oral sex scene between a couple of the youngsters and it’s completely accurate in all its awkwardness, silliness and general weirdness. It would be a tough and uncomfortable thing to do, but it certainly presents a perfect opportunity to ask your teen ‘Geez that scene was funny and kind of awful to imagine. Got any questions or thoughts about that stuff?’

Also, in the book the kids sneak cigarettes and liquor plus there are a few mentions of marijuana. I suppose you really can't write a boarding school book without that stuff. After all, I probably would have gotten into smokes and booze too had I been in their shoes. And by 'probably', I mean 'definitely'.

I'll say it again, books do an awesome job of opening our eyes and enriching our lives. But if parents aren’t right there to help their kids absorb what they are reading, then they are learning only from authors and not from their moms and dads. And don’t worry, it’s a great book so you'll enjoy it just as much as they will. It’s not as if you have to suffer through some piece of garbage just to keep up. Good words lead to ideal opportunities for deep talk which solidify great relationships.

So whether it’s this book or any other, be aware of what’s permeating the minds of your youth. Use reading as a way to connect. I cannot overstate the importance of that!

“Looking for Alaska” is an enlightening read with fascinating characters, deep thoughts to ponder and excellent writing. If you’ve read “The Fault in Our Stars”, you’ll likely dig this one. If not, read that one and if Green impresses you then certainly check out “Alaska” - as well as his other titles. I'm a fan of this guy so I’ll be tackling his other books soon and you can look for reviews on them in the coming months!

Happy Reading!!
Here's my write-up on "The Fault in Our Stars", if you're interested!