John Green's 'Looking for Alaska'

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the third novel I’ve read by John Green, Looking for Alaska. I read it a few weeks ago, so I’ve had time to let the thoughts process and now I feel like I can properly review it. So—here we go. John Green’s first novel—and my third, after The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns—is somewhat weak and fails to be edgy or poignant in the way his other two novels (that I read) succeed spectacularly. I was underwhelmed by this one and frankly, sometimes annoyed while reading. Here’s why.

99561For starters, this book begins with an unpopular but circumspect teenage boy named Miles Halter, who leaves his public high school for boarding school in Alabama. He hopes that a change of scenery will cause him to have great adventures, something he calls “The Great Perhaps,” quoted from Francois Rabelais’s supposed last words. That’s another thing—Miles is obsessed with memorizing famous people’s last words, and he knows hundreds. When he arrives at Culver Creek boarding school, he gets mixed up with some less-than-popular but lovable students, among them his roommate “The Colonel” and the fiercely independent, smart, beautiful and self-destructive Alaska Young, whom Miles falls head-over-heels in love with.

Alaska is a foul-mouthed, philosophical, brilliant and severely depressed young woman with self-destructive tendencies, but she’s fascinating to Miles. I think that I liked this book so much less than I thought I would because I had no patience for Alaska’s antics, and little reason, besides the superficial attraction Miles feels, to understand why Miles falls in love with her. Still, there are a few beautiful turns of phrase that Green is famous for:

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

Honestly, Alaska annoyed me. She also reminded me of a much more interesting and complex character, Green’s own Margo from Paper Towns. They both have the same “hurricane” qualities and the same magnetic personality, but Margo was much, much less selfish than Alaska. Miles also reminded me of a less polished version of Quentin of the same novel, so I was left feeling like I had read an unfinished sketch of Paper Towns.

There’s also a thread running throughout Green’s novels, including An Abundance of Katherines (but missing from The Fault In Our Stars, to great effect), of a young, insecure teenage boy who becomes obsessed with a girl he doesn’t understand and therefore romanticizes in his mind. I’m becoming impatient with this storyline.

What also added to this feeling was that this is a semi-autobiographical account of something that happened to John Green, so there’s this feeling of apology, something Green had to either explain or get off his chest, and the novel felt like a true story being sloppily repackaged into something more easily digestible. This may also be the reason why the characters don’t feel true to life; ironically, I often feel like characters based on real people don’t come alive as much, bogged down as they are by the author’s own experience of them in real life.

The story’s events are a little uneven, but there are a few beautiful moments of philosophical introspection that rang very true to me. John Green is obviously a very talented writer and this just seems like a typical imperfect first novel, and if I hadn’t started backward with his oeuvre, I’m sure this one would stand out so much more in my mind.

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” 


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  • Thoroughly enjoyed reading this review. As I read Looking for Alaska after Paper Towns, I came to the exact same conclusion you did regarding the main characters of the story, and found that I much preferred Paper Towns to Looking for Alaska.

    Fantastic review.

  • Reblogged this on Alex James Wise and commented:
    Fantastic review of a popular book, by the infamous John Green

    • Thanks so much for reblogging! Glad you enjoyed the review. 🙂

  • I read Looking for Alaska before I read his other books, so I didn’t have Paper Towns (and to a lesser extent An Abundance of Katherines) to compare it to. I really loved it initially, but since I read his other books immediately afterwards, I came to like it less. I think is in a lot of ways Margo is a response to the problems with Alaska

    • I agree. I also think, and this may be mean considering there was an actual girl who died whom Alaska was based on, but killing Alaska in the book seemed like a cop-out to me. The narrative of the story felt stilted. So in Paper Towns, I feel like Green gave the Miles/Quentin character a chance to really get to know Alaska/Margo. Paper Towns is sort of a fictional response to the true-ish events of Looking for Alaska. It’s interesting how writers work, isn’t it?

  • I actually really enjoyed LFA when I read it, but you’ve brought up some really great points. I read this one directly after TFIOS and before any others, so that may be why I was so open and loving of it. I completely agree that it’s possible this was a case of him “getting it all out” and since it was his first book, that’s understandable and makes a ton of sense. If an author didn’t become a better writer after his or her first book, I’d be concerned! That being said, An Abundance of Katherines was my least favorite, mostly for the reasons you also listed, and I would consider myself a bigger fan of LFA than Katherines.

    • I completely agree that if I’d read this before tfios or paper towns that I would have liked it so much more! And maybe it’s wrong to judge a book based on its author, but the flaws were just so obvious to me. I’m currently reading Katherines and I can already tell that Alaska is better!