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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the third John Green novel I have read this year, after The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines. Each of them has been a surprisingly affecting novel full of fun, lifelike characters that draw the reader into the world of the story. These are all so-called "young adult" novels, but it would be a damn shame if we relegated novels where the reader actually cares what happens next to some supposedly lesser shelf. Anyone who still remembers what it was like to be an awkward, unsure-of-themselves teenager will find much to love in the works of John Green.

Miles Halter is a lonely boy without friends until he convinces his parents to let him go to a prestigious boarding school in Alabama. There he becomes fast friends with his hard-working, hard-partying roommate Chip "The Colonel" Martin. The Colonel guides him through life at the school, and eases his way into the social life there, which is split almost neatly in two, between under-privileged students on scholarship, like the Colonel, and local rich kids who go home every weekend.

Miles soon befriends several of the other scholarship students, including an eccentric, passionate girl named Alaska Young (her hippie mother let her name herself at age 7.) Alaska is the leader of Miles' gang of friends, and she and The Colonel lead elaborate pranks against the rich kids and the school's strict headmaster, known as The Eagle.

The novel has an intriguing structure. The early chapters are all headlined "XX Days Before" and about halfwy through we transition to "XX Days After." The precipitating event for this change is a heartbreaking night that completely changes life for Miles and his friends.

Looking for Alaska is a great novel because of the sheer honesty with which it was written. There's no irony, no detachment, no cynicism. There's just people, dealing with an impossible situation in the best, imperfect way that they can.

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