Odd One Out: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Greenlooking for alaska

Source: local library

Format: audiobook

Published: 2005 by Dutton Juvenile

Synopsis: Miles “Pudge” Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.”

Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.

My thoughts:

This was my first John Green. The fervor surrounding last year’s The Fault in Our Stars meant that it wasn’t necessary to suggest his books to library patrons, because they were nearly constantly checked out on their own. I haven’t been in a hurry to read him, because I like spotlighting lesser known or brand new books rather than talking about ones everyone else has already read or already circulate well. But just for the sake of comparison, I thought I should read one of his books and decided that coupling it with my goal of listening to audiobooks would kill two birds with one stone.

To be fair, the format might have effected the way I feel about this book. I’ve tried them before, but with limited success. I listened to Leviathan and enjoyed the narrator, but one of the discs was scratched and needed repair so I finished a paper copy. I listened to Pandemonium and got very confused with the “then” and “now.” I find myself easily distracted by thoughts tumbling around in my head. I tried to listen to Seraphina while riding in the car with two YA librarians and we couldn’t get into it. I find my inability to get into audiobooks frustrating because it would be awesome to be able to read while folding laundry or doing the dishes, because so often I end up picking up the books and leaving the household duties for lately and them embarrassed when unexpected company comes knocking. Plus, I love listening to NPR and can get into This American Life just fine…anyway, I’m determined to listen to audiobooks and thought maybe fantasy was not the way to go and decided to try some realistic fiction.

There is a slight problem with my audiobook commitment. I don’t like wearing headphones. I have few pairs that fit in my ears correctly so I use them at the gym but I really find them uncomfortable. My mom won’t let me have her Bose headphones and I can’t fathom spending so much money on them. This meant that I play the audiobook from speakers that fill the entire house, so I have to either listen while Mister BS is not home or play something that won’t annoy him too much. Since he read Looking for Alaska during his Teaching Young Adult Literature class in grad school, it didn’t bother him too much. Since I read it over the holidays while he was off school, he was pretty much always around. It was fun because we got to discuss our reactions. I always enjoy talking books with him.

Mister BS confessed he cried the first time he read Looking for Alaska. I had no such emotional reaction. I recognized that it was well written and appreciated that Green didn’t seem to be talking down to his readers. I really did enjoy the “countdown” format, even though I knew the event that would mark the “before” and “after” (thanks, Lauren, who spoiled it for me—but really, I’m not mad, because I saw it coming). But I really found the whole story to be very… contrived. A kid who memorizes famous last words, yeah, that’s a fun quirk, but not wholly realistic. At least, I didn’t believe it. The nicknames, the boarding school set up, the tacos…it was all just kind of cutesy to me. While I appreciated the frank discussion of sexuality and the general awkwardness of it, I didn’t believe two older teens would go ask for a demonstration from a friend. Google that shit, kids. (Not that I think there’s anything wrong with peers discussing sex, I just don’t believe they’d ever do it in such a blasé way).

It would be easy for me to say that I didn’t love this book, just kinda liked it, because I really didn’t like Alaska, the mysterious girl that is the center of the story and the near obsession of our geeky hero, but it isn’t exactly how I feel. Alaska is very much a real girl, more real than any of the male characters in a way, even though we only see her through the narrator’s eyes. I appreciated that she was neither 100% bitchy mean girl nor 100% perfect princess, but I disliked how she become almost an object, a story device.

So, now I understand what John Green is about, and believe me, I get the appeal, I just think a lot of it is more the cult of personality he’s developed than the actual books. I’m not writing off John Green yet, I’m just not the fangirl so many people are (but I’m not anti-John Green like some of his more bitchy detractors). I’m going to give Will Grayson, Will Grayson a try, because I’ve had similar issues getting into fellow YA darling David Levithan’s books. I DNFed Wide Awake and Love is the Higher Law, though both on the surface had concepts that appealed to me. We’ll see if I like John Green and David Levithan together more than I’ve liked them separately.

Second opinion:

The Book Smugglers: “The girls are mirrors or windows from which to observe the boy-narrator’s lives and this is perhaps my greatest criticisms: that the girls are more out of this world, impossible realities that serve more as plot-propeller than concrete characters in themselves…John Green’s prose is insanely good writing because it is the kind of writing that creeps in little by little.”

What’s your take on John Green or Looking for Alaska


17 thoughts on “Odd One Out: Looking for Alaska by John Green

  1. After reading Looking for Alaska, I didn’t really understand all of the hype surrounding John Green. It wasn’t until I read Paper Towns that I came to appreciate him (his vlogs with his brother didn’t hurt either). Even though John Green uses his usual character formula (geeky, overthinking boy falls for impossibly beautiful out of his league girl) there was something about PT that stuck with me. I hope you enjoy Will Grayson, Will Grayson!

  2. I just read An Abundance of Katherines and loved it. (also loved TFIOS if you saw my review- the first 5-star book since I Am the Messenger.) And you know what? I think I read Waiting for Alaska a long time ago- about the time that it came out- and I do not remember it at all. It must not have made much of an impression. Don’t let it ruin John Green for you!

  3. We read this in my YA Lit class last semester and I wasn’t blown away. TFIOS, though – that one really got me. And I’ve heard so much great stuff about Will Grayson that it’s one I’m looking forward to also.

  4. Yeah, this one didn’t do it for me in the way I thought it would and I also listened to the audiobook. That’s not to say that there weren’t things that I appreciated about it, but it didn’t work for me in the way that An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson did.

  5. I think Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of the best YA books I’ve ever read (and re-read, and re-read). I also adore The Fault in Our Stars and have been recommending it heavily. I am not as big of a fan of Looking for Alaska. Maybe it’s because I’m the mom of a teen and kids in that book make terrible choice after terrible choice. I’m very much looking forward to reading An Abundance of Katherines and seeing where that one falls for me.

  6. Alaska was a shrug book for me, as was Paper Towns, but i did sincerly enjoy An Abundance of Katherines and TFIOS. Though not so much as to be champing at the bit for his next book….

  7. I’m like your husband–I cried the first time I read LFA because I was *not* spoiled on what happened in the middle, and I had no idea. Maybe I should have, but for some reason it blindsided me like almost nothing I’ve ever read. On the other hand, I didn’t cry at TFIOS. I really liked it, and I really liked all of his other books, but not like I loved Alaska. And I’ve heard vastly different things from a lot of other readers, so who knows? It’s probably worth giving his other stuff a shot. (I do totally agree with you on audiobooks, though. And I’ve even come around on podcasts recently…but audiobooks are tough.)

    1. I know, and I swear, I will get to it! Thanks for saying you like the look. I read blogs in a reader so never really cared too much about the look, but thought I’d put some more effort in and try to learn how to customize it.

  8. I’ve only read The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t become I fangirl, either, and I don’t really feel the need to read more of him. I might, but I’m not driven to do it as a result of reading TFIOS. It was good–I liked the characters and wanted to keep reading–but I found the dialogue unrealistic. I’ve taught for 13 years now and have met some brilliant young people, and I still found the dialogue unbelievable at times.
    As for audiobooks, I listen while driving because I can’t stand the radio most of the time. My mind wanders sometimes, too, but overall some have worked for me. The narrator makes the difference. To Kill A Mockingbird is narrated by Sissy Spacek, which is perfect! The reader for The Hunger Games, though, was awful!

    1. Yeah, I’ve known *smart* teens ones, even incredibly literature and theatre minded type kids, public speakers and orators, and they don’t speak with that kind of language in every day speech, they don’t express themselves so well. That’s what felt the most contrived to me. It was enjoyable to read, and some lines are just great, but it doesn’t have that real quality that say, Holden Caulfield has, which maybe because of the boarding school, I kept thinking of in comparison to this, even though they are much different.

      I think I could do audiobooks on a long distance trip by myself, but I’m fortunate to not have a daily commute. I live less than a mile from the library. I do think that narrators make a HUGE difference. I am going to have to check out that Sissy Spacek doing TKaM, thanks for the tip! There is a new version of Dracula coming out with an awesome cast, and that’s one I’m going to try, too.

  9. Yeah, I’ve only read two John Green books to date, but I can say that any one of them should give you a pretty good idea of what he’s about…they’re basically all the same. Now, that same thing is done well, but it doesn’t give for a wide variation in plot. I actually found myself really annoyed with The Fault in Our Stars because it felt so contrived for me, but I feel that way about almost every cancer book I read, so I blamed it on that, but it could be his decisions. He does write very existentialist teens, which DO exist, but are certainly not the norm. I’m glad you tried this one on audio, even if that’s not really your thing. I wish they worked better for you, I LOVE audiobooks!

      1. I hope you do! It may be a matter of finding a narrator that’s a good match for you. I have friends who dislike most audiobooks, but will listen to anything by certain narrators they enjoy. =)

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