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Old 03-16-2016, 02:18 PM View Post #1 (Link) Looking for Alaska by John Green
ScottyMcGee (Offline)
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I never got on the John Green bus. I actually didn't realize this was his first book and it came out in 2005, when I was 15. I didn't really even hear about John Green until like maybe 3 or 4 years ago when I started noticing his YouTube channel.

I have some "collector's edition" apparently, which just has an interview with John Greene at the end.



Synopsis:
Miles, later nicknamed Pudge, is basically this scrawny kid who's fascinated with famous last words and wants some big change in his life. So he goes to a boarding school, the same one his father went to, and immediately gets drawn into the complex social life there - smoking and drinking every day. Most importantly though he gets drawn towards Alaska Young - a free-spirited, spontaneous girl who of course has a boyfriend. One day Miles is taken by some rich kids at night and tossed into the lake in a dangerous, life-threatening prank. Alaska and Miles' roommate "The Colonel" then help him retaliate.

Prose:
This is a book geared towards young adults, so you'll knock this out in like two or three days. Easy read. Miles is the narrator and he's basically a modern-day Holden Caufield, except less whiny and more clueless. He's quite sarcastic but then the humor dies down in the later half of the book.

Story:
Without giving anything away, the story goes much deeper and more involved than what I wrote in the synopsis. There's a mystery aspect that comes into play. The book is separated into two parts "Before" and "After". Before and after what you may ask? Well, read and find out.
I can't help but feel something about it all is just a bit unrealistic. I mean, I went to Catholic school all my life except for college so I have different experiences. But something feels too adult about the social life here. Or the mannerisms. I don't know how to put it.
Otherwise - yeah it's a great story. I mean, well, I'm kind of annoyed at the whole "clueless guy meets spontaneous girl who changes his life" trope. But the rest of the story complimented and supported that. It brings something good to the table for young adults.

Verdict:
Yeah sure, read it. I don't know if I'll read any more John Green books in the future though. They all sound the same - they all sound just like Looking for Alaska. Guy gets warped into a spontaneous "unique" girl and he has some quirk about how he views life.
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Old 03-16-2016, 09:14 PM View Post #2 (Link)
Dabs (Offline)
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Kinda hated this book. Alaska was very two-dimensional to me. Very much a manic-pixie-dream-girl, although I know John Green hates that phrase, calling it sexist no doubt because it illustrates how poorly many of his female characters are constructed. I thought the main characters was... okay. I remember he's obsessed with the last quotes of dead people or something. I remember he drinks a mixture of vodka and milk at one point. That's about it.

That said, I'm not a young adult/teen. I also don't love mumble-core at all (which is what you apparently call this quirky, slice-of-life with a deeper lesson beneath it stuff). I thought The Fault in Our Stars was, at best, decent. I have no interest in reading another one of his books, no matter how famous it gets.
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Old 06-06-2016, 08:08 PM View Post #3 (Link)
ScottyMcGee (Offline)
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Originally Posted by Dabs View Post
Kinda hated this book. Alaska was very two-dimensional to me. Very much a manic-pixie-dream-girl, although I know John Green hates that phrase, calling it sexist no doubt because it illustrates how poorly many of his female characters are constructed. I thought the main characters was... okay. I remember he's obsessed with the last quotes of dead people or something. I remember he drinks a mixture of vodka and milk at one point. That's about it.

That said, I'm not a young adult/teen. I also don't love mumble-core at all (which is what you apparently call this quirky, slice-of-life with a deeper lesson beneath it stuff). I thought The Fault in Our Stars was, at best, decent. I have no interest in reading another one of his books, no matter how famous it gets.
For some reason I thought I replied to this but actually didn't.

Yeah, Pudge's big thing was remembering last words, which comes into play for the story. The drinking scene was so excessive that it felt like parody at times - that bothered me the most. Like. . .everybody drank. EEEEVVVEERRRYYYBODDDDYYY.

But yeah - same. I don't care to read any more of his stuff.
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Old 06-07-2016, 08:43 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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I feel that John Green is an author you have to read when you're in that pre-college/uni bubble somewhere between 14 and 17 to really appreciate him. His characters are too adult, and that's appealing for pre-adults with dreams of being so much deeper and in touch with lifeandstuff than everyone else they know.

The first book of his I read (at 17) was Paper Towns, and then I went on to read Looking for Alaska and, when it came out, The Fault in Our Stars. The latter was definitely the best, as I could at least understand why the MC liked Gus so much and didn't need to raise my eyebrows at more person-you-just-met-and-is-mostly-a-dick-instalove, but it was pretty much the same vague story as his other books, only we had a manic-pixie-dream-guy this time instead.

His books are predictably moving, sure, and I liked them when I read them because yep, I was one of those wanting-to-be-deep teenage girls, but I liked other books in the genre a lot more (such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and some of those books are still important to me. John Green has a distinctly designed-to-be-quoted-ness I really dislike now. I can't imagine diving into any of his books for the first time now, age 23, and really getting anything out of them but a light read between better books.
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Old 07-26-2016, 07:59 AM View Post #5 (Link)
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Hey Scott!

Wow. I've read this book when I was 16 and I could relate a lot to Pudge. It's a truly inspiring story of a young kid who discovers himself and a beautiful girl who helps him out. It's a simple story, and I liked the main characters Alaska and Pudge!
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Old 07-29-2016, 07:15 AM View Post #6 (Link)
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See, this makes me sad. I legitimately winced at your comment, Dabs.

I can understand where Lily is coming from - most of John Green's books are mediocre at best. I found the Fault in Our Stars to be predicable, Paper Towns drags for most of the book (the only interesting parts, I found, were when Margot was around), and I could not finish An Abundance of Katherine's, I've tried twice. I definitely feel that I've moved beyond the YA/Teen genre, so I don't pay much attention to him anymore. I prefer Perks (both book and movie) to TFIOS or Paper Towns any day.

That said, Looking for Alaska is my favorite book of all time, and I can say that without a doubt.

I've read it four times now, typically once a year, and typically when everything in my life goes to shit. The first time I read it, I was struggling with letting go of a religion that was causing me an untold amount of self-hate. The second time, I found that I could also still have faith in something, that it didn't have to be confined to this cookie-cutter American ideal. Alaska is the only girl I've ever had a crush on - she also captured my best friend in high school to a T, which both explained why I loved her, and why losing her in the book affected me so strongly. I don't really see where you are coming from when you call her two-dimensional, because I believed her to be one of the most complicated character's I've ever encountered - I've never been able to figure out exactly what is going through her head at any given point. Pudge spoke to me on a higher level, as someone who both deals with intense social anxiety and loves famous last words. The desire to run away to boarding school was also a thing for me during high school. There are multitudes of reasons that I love this book. The greatest being, at one of the lowest points in my life, this book pulled me back from suicide. This book, to me, will always be an example of hope, and I think that is what makes this book so special.

I also read it in the mindset that this is not all fiction - John Green went to a boarding school in Alabama, pulled off hilarious senior pranks, all of that. And furthermore, in one of his videos, he talks about the time when he was working on Looking for Alaska as being the most depressed point in his life. I feel as though John really lived a lot of the experiences in the book, and that makes it real to me.

Spoiler:
There's a point where Pudge remarks that he doesn't know if she intentionally killed herself, or was simply overcome with emotion and fucked up. As someone who's been to that point, I have never felt so understood. Alaska is a mystery to me in the same way that my mind is, most of the time.


Furthermore, the last chapter explains a lot of my philosophy on life. I have never had as strong an experience reading as when I read that the first time - it felt as if John and reached into my soul and pulled out everything I could never put into words. Whenever I read this book, it feels like returning home - like yes, my life has been hell recently, but this book still exists, these characters still exist, and I can live in their world for awhile. This book to me will always epitomize hope, and it saddens me to see so many people write it off so casually - because I can't say that I'd still be here if John had never written it. The made-to-be-quoted thing is true, but I'm going to blame that more on the internet than on John, specifically with LfA, as it was his first book.

John Green is definitely not my favorite author - I really don't think I could make that choice even if I was forced. But this book has affected me in ways no other has (except for perhaps Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I've only read that twice. I watch the movie once every few months, though), and so I feel called to defend it. Is it the best written book of all time? Not by a landslide. But to me, personally, it has been and most likely will always be my favorite book. I'm an idealist, and to encounter a book that captures hope fully, even in the face of death and depression and the just all-around shittiness of life, has meant more to me than I can properly describe.

There's my two cents. Now, to go sit outside and smoke a cigarette, because I'm slightly offended that not everyone loves this book. No anger towards you guys, I completely understand where you're coming from, it's just that this book is so close to my heart that an insult to it feels like an insult to my experiences and what that book has gotten me through.

So yeah, if you haven't read it, read it. Read it, knowing it's YA, knowing that it plays on the 'guy meets spontaneous girl that changes his life" trope, and then marvel at how it, at least to me, becomes so much more than that.

Side note: They had a religions class at the boarding school, and as I am now a philosophy/religious studies major in college, I absolutely love the idea of a class like that. So, ten points to John Green.

-Kanen
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Old 07-30-2016, 02:36 AM View Post #7 (Link)
Dabs (Offline)
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Some spoilers in this response. Read at your own peril, all ye who wish to read the book.

The fact that Alaska is presented as being mysterious and unknowable is why I find her depiction so atrocious and sexist. She is one of too many female characters who are presented in that fashion. Women are not raging hurricanes of mystery and amazingness. They're people with strengths and flaws, and they are just as knowable as men. I'm not angry that they can't tell whether Alaska committed suicide or not. I think that's a compelling conflict. It's everything else about Alaska that frustrates me. Even if she were portrayed as a troubled girl who doesn't know what she wants, that, to me, is better than romanticizing her character to the point where she feels more like an idea than a person.

A well defined character, to me, is one whose thoughts are understandable, yet they have the ability to be surprising. It's been a while since I read the book, but I don't recall Alaska being like that. John Green simply didn't dig deeply enough into her character to really allow us to understand her. I mean, I get she's tortured because of a certain event in her past (not naming because of spoilers). But to me, it just didn't illuminate enough of her, just this one aspect of her. And it's not like every last facet of her personality needs a deep explanation, but you, as a reader, need to have a sense that she is the way she is for a purpose, whether it's fully explained or not, and the only aspect of her that gets an explanation of some sort (and not, in my opinion, a good one) is that tragic detail that explains why she's depressed and why she may have possibly committed suicide.
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Old 07-30-2016, 04:49 PM View Post #8 (Link)
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I read the book a few years ago, so I'm summoning impressions from my imperfect memory, but Dabs, I read the book a little differently. I agree that John Green only bothers to explain one facet of her character, and I also have trouble buying that one incident would neatly sum up someone's headspace, since grief, trauma and emotional experience are usually far more complicated than that -- emotions ripple out, incidents layer on top of each other -- but I thought part of the point of the book was that Pudge missed out on A LOT of Alaska's humanity by putting her on this pedestal as a mysterious, damaged, exciting girl. I thought Alaska's thoughts and actions were hard to understand because Pudge didn't have the resources or the desire to actually understand her. I have befriended and dated those kinds of guys and my memory of the narration is that it's a pretty accurate depiction the thought process that leads people to reduce people they're infatuated with to fantasies, even while that person is trying to live their life in front of them. I remember reading the book and feeling confused by Pudge's feelings for Alaska because they didn't come off as very close friends to me, which I think is the point: they weren't.

Which is to say, I think Pudge comes off really badly in this book, as he should. He wasn't a good friend, because a) he assumed an intimacy that didn't exist between him and Alaska and b) you can't be a good friend if you're trying to fit another person into a simple box that's convenient for you. I think the narrator thinks in a sexist frame, but I think it's true to how a lot of young men think about the women in their lives. I have had guys LITERALLY TELL ME they want me to take control of their lives and make them exciting, somehow. These are the same people who try to play savior because they think they're smart and sensitive and that they "get" me, and what they "get" about me is that I'm quirky and damaged and have been hurt in the past, apparently, and they think that because they want a savior I must too. To go off on a tangent, these guys inevitably put themselves in a weird kind of competition with former lovers. The fact that they think they are somehow better than every guy I've ever met before while simultaneously hoping that sleeping with me will rub off some of my ambition and hunger and freedom and direction onto them is very, very understandable and very, very naive. We have all wanted a friend or lover to make our life divine. But it's a doomed enterprise.

Which is the book's great triumph and also it's biggest issue: I think a lot of readers of Looking for Alaska are young enough and steeped enough in sexist tropes as well as tropes about melancholy/loneliness/depression that they don't realize Pudge romanticizes Alaska completely, even her damage -- especially her damage. They're romanticizing their hurts and crushes the same way.

Alaska is only an idea to Pudge. At the end of the book Pudge is starting to realize he didn't actually know Alaska and won't get to. Pudge's sexist, reductionist narration is in keeping with his character and not necessarily a problem with the book.


(I would contend that it's kind of gross, though, that Alaska's tragedy exists only to serve as a lesson to Pudge.)
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Old 07-30-2016, 05:59 PM View Post #9 (Link)
Dabs (Offline)
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I think that makes sense. I'm probably having trouble remembering where John Green ends and the narrator begins, so to speak, since I haven't read the book in a while. That being said, I don't think our conclusions are terribly different. Ultimately, in trying to topple one sexist trope, John Green falls into, or maybe even helps create, another one.
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