Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Oldie but a Goodie: Looking for Alaska

I spend a fair amount of time evangelising about some of my favourite YA books and the reasons I got into reading the genre in the first place. Looking for Alaska is definitely one of those books that I feel best represents what realistic YA lit should be about: complex characters, a story that takes you away from yourself and the unsettling feeling of not really being able to shake the book from your bones, even weeks after you're read it.

The Book: Looking for Alaska by John Green

And it's About?

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words–and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

In a Word, it was... Enigmatic.

Miles is a bookish but sweet kid, sheltered and used to spending too much time indoors when he escapes the lonelinesssand unpopularity of his pre-private school life. Miles' private boarding school if about 300 times cooler than any high school any of us went to but more than that, he makes friends that you wish had been your friends. The smart, subversive and tough Colonel, Takumi, the token Asian, and, of course, Alaska. She's that damaged girl that every boy wants to fix: beautiful, furtive and artistic.

Shit happens. Much like at his old school, Miles becomes a target for a group of popular bullies. A prank ensues war between Miles' group of friends and those bullies; the "Weekday Warriors" (local rich kids that stay at the school during the week and go back to their "air-conditioned" homes in the weekends). Miles' escalating love and lust for the unattainable Alaska has all the hallmarks of your three-year crush on so-and-so circa ninth grade. And, in a brave move for a YA book in this day and age of self-censorship and children's books with morals, there was enough booze, cigarettes and sex in this book to remind me of my actual days in high school.

Still, it's all the things that don't happen that stayed with me long after I finished this book. Miles' vision of Alaska never quite moves into focus, she's right then but he is looking for her but he can't quite find her. The truth behind a terrible tragedy that befalls on of Miles' group of misfits is never really uncovered. Miles goes to Culver Creek to seek what the poet François Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps" but instead it almost swallows him.

It's pretty rare to find a debut novel with such a punch, nostalgia, humour and the cold comfort of knowing everything did not turn out ok.

In many ways, it's Simón Bolívar’s words “How will I ever get out of this Labyrinth?” that drive each character in this book. They are all crawling, stumbling, racing to find their way out of their own Labyrinth of adolescence, of high school, of poverty, of privilege, of suffering and of grief.

Looking for Alaska is about life at boarding school, unbearable loss, best friends, first loves and last words. Who wouldn't want to read about that? Four hearts and hug out of five.

No comments:

Post a Comment