Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.
I think many people will already have read this book, or at least be familiar with the quote “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane”. Not me. I had read John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars, and found it ‘quite nice but not worth the hype’. I’m generally not very good with books that everyone else is fond of*. The snob or hipster (depends on how friendly you put it) in me usually puts off reading the book for a while, deliberately raises its expectations to an unrealistic level and then tries it and finds it a dismissive ‘ok’. It’s a bit sad, really.
I read Looking for Alaska because one of my friends, after having listened patiently to my complaints about The Fault in Our Stars, urged me to give John Green’s books another shot. “You’ll like this one,” she said. “It isn’t as famous.” So, on a long train journey with little to do, I gave it a go. And sure, I did find Green’s language a bit pretentious -which 15 year old uses the phrase “Still, my mother persevered, awash in the delusion that..”?- and when Miles started discussing ‘The Great Perhaps’ I did roll my eyes a bit, but after a while the novel started to charm me and these things did not matter so much any more. I started caring for this geeky teenager who collects the last words of famous people and I became more and more interested in his adventures at his new boarding school.
“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.”
I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Sure, they were melodramatic, crazy and self-involved at times, smoking too many cigarettes and talking about “the only way out of the labyrinth of suffering”, but this is done in such a way that it makes them charmingly flawed and real teenagers, rather than actually annoying. One of my favourite characters is Miles’ religion teacher, who becomes a kind of mentor to him and his friends, without being all too nice and gentle.
“I found myself thinking about President William McKinley, the third American president to be assassinated. He lived for several days after he was shot, and towards the end, his wife started crying and screaming, “I want to go too! I want to go too!” And with his last measure of strength, McKinley turned to her and spoke his last words: “We are all going.”
The book is split in two: ‘before’ and ‘after’, preceded by a number of days. I began reading the book thinking “I don’t really care, I’ll just see what happens”, but as the days counted down I started feeling more and more anxious. I had a pretty good feeling about what was going to happen, but it still affected me when it did. After THAT DAY the atmosphere of the book changes significantly. The story shifts from a happy ‘school day adventures’ book into a detective. In a way, this shows the impact of what happened, but I’m still not too sure if I really liked it. I did find the ending vaguely satisfying.
So anyway, if you’re ‘not that into’ John Green, I would still recommend you to try this book. It is not phenomenal, but why would it have to be? It is an enjoyable read that did prove very hard for me to put down. Read the end with tissues at the ready.
*except Harry Potter, I LOVE Harry Potter. :)