“I came here looking for a great perhaps, for real friends and a more-than-minor life.” Miles Halter has always led a very un-extraordinary life; social outcast at school with no friends to his name – but that’s all about to change. Leaving behind his small-town life to attend Culver Creek boarding school, Miles meets Chip ‘The Colonel’ Martin, and is quickly inducted into a ready-made set of friends – among them: Alaska Young.
Beautiful, but undeniably complicated, the gorgeous Alaska is all Miles wants. But, underneath her beauty she’s a ticking time-bomb that no one can disarm – and Miles is in too deep to avoid being caught in the explosion.
The debut novel from, now award-winning author, John Green, sucks you in and keeps you on your toes from start to finish. I originally picked up this book because I’d previously read ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, and as a result was really curious to read some of his other works.
Stylistically, I liked the way this story was told from a male character’s point of view as I feel that a lot of YA fiction is told from the female perspective, so that made a refreshing change. Also, the book didn’t follow the typical ‘1,2,3’ chapter structure, and instead was simply sectioned into ‘Before’ and ‘After’. I thought this was inventive as it created a sense of anticipation throughout – alluding to the fact that something pivotal is coming, and instantly making you want to read on to find out what.
There are no airs and graces with the writing style, it’s very easy to digest and doesn’t make you re-read a page three times before you think ‘Oh, ok I’ve got it.’ It’s almost journal-like, giving a real candid snapshot into these characters lives and their interactions with each other. In a lot of ways they are a group of misfits – none of them come from particularly privileged backgrounds – unlike the weekday warriors who go home every weekend to continue living the high life, and although they are more than likely friends of circumstance, they all fit together.
If I’m honest, the character development is sketchy in places, with one or two just feeling like ‘filler’ characters, but the main three were written really well. I particularly loved The Colonel’s character – from his sarcastic wit, the way he takes Miles under his wing and brings him out of his shell, to the loving relationship he has with his mother – he just oozes a kind of charisma.
In contrast Alaska is one of those characters that’s just all over the place – emotionally as well as physically – which may have something to do with the fact that we only see her in snippets because we experience the story through Miles. There is the odd ‘sarcastic’ comment from Alaska here and there to give you a hint of how she feels, but the majority of what readers know of her is what Miles sees, or doesn’t see, of her erratic behaviour. He says somewhere that she ‘never hit the breaks’, and I feel like this has such a dual meaning because she truly doesn’t, she always comes across as full throttle 100 MPH.
Thematically, the idea of ambiguity and mystery is prevalent throughout the story: Miles’ idea of the great perhaps, even Alaska herself is a puzzle from the moment Mile’s meets her, right up until the very last page. It seems fitting then that one of the major motifs in the novel is born from a quote that Alaska shares with Miles:
“He… was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. ‘Damn it,’ he sighed. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?’”
Throughout the story it becomes clear that everyone has their own labyrinth to beat: Miles is stuck in a state of wanting Alaska but knowing he can never have her, Alaska battles constantly with self-loathing and self-destruction – blaming herself for her mother’s death – and later on, The Colonel and Miles find themselves in a labyrinth searching for answers to their questions. So, what is the labyrinth exactly? Is it just the challenges you face in life and how you overcome them? Is it life its self and the uncertainty of it? Is the point that you never really know?
At its core I think that it’s a book about life; how people that you meet have a certain effect on you, and how fragile they can be if you take time to look beyond the surface – even when you think you know someone. It’s like Miles says in the book: “[Alaska is] still refusing to answer how or why questions, still insisting on an aura of mystery.” To that end I feel that the title ‘Looking For Alaska’ is fitting as she is the kind of person who is such a mystery you never stop searching for them, in the hope that maybe one day – somewhere in their fortress – you’ll actually find them.
Final verdict: I really enjoyed reading this story and it’s great if you’ve found yourself growing out of paranormal romance side of YA, and enjoy fiction that’s more-so rooted in real life – and, of course, if you don’t mind a bit of a tear-jerker!
I’d also love to read a version of this story from Alaska’s perspective, as she’s such a complex character, and there’s so much of her you don’t see, so I think it would be really interesting to delve into her thoughts and feelings. Granted, it may give away some of the plot twists towards the end but I think it would make an interesting read nonetheless. I wonder if that’s something John Green has ever thought about…