Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Posted December 30, 2013 by Debby in Reviews / 17 Comments

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John GreenLooking for Alaska by John Green
Published by Dutton on March 3rd, 2005
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 221
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

1.5 Stars

Here we go, issue 328597 in “The Chronicles of Debby, the Heartless Bitch”. As much as I hoped that I would fall in love with Looking for Alaska like almost everyone else and be reduced to a sobbing mess as I was practically promised I would be… it just didn’t work out. Grief stories are officially not for me.

I should say up front that I’ve already read The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, and thus, I am familiar with his writing style and devices he typically uses. And that’s issue number one. His characters are all extremely similar. We have the intelligent and witty main character, the manic pixie dream girl love interest, and the sidekick best friend who has moments of quirkiness and vulgarity. Admittedly, The Fault in Our Stars is rather different and unique, but I’ve heard that Paper Towns has this same pattern too. To sum it up: I just wasn’t impressed with the characters in Looking for Alaska, I didn’t connect to them, and I couldn’t bring myself to actively care for them either.

Particularly the main character, Miles, I just didn’t give a rat’s ass about. He had instalove feelings for Alaska and meanwhile pretty much stomped all over the feelings of Lara, who liked him for some totally inexplicable reason. But perhaps the most memorable scene in this whole freaking book to me – showing that this book seriously didn’t work for me – is this brutally awkward blowjob scene. Lara wants to give Miles a blowjob (after they’re dating exactly one day), then she sticks his dick in her mouth and freezes. “Now what?” she asks. She asks if she should bite. Miles doesn’t know either – no, due to the heat of the moment, all memories of porn have been swept away. So they go and ask Alaska. She laughs and explains it to them. And then they go and do it.

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Words cannot describe the very many issues I have with this scene. It just plain made me feel extremely uncomfortable and…. No. Just no. NO.

But John Green’s strength is in his writing style, and that is obvious. The man definitely has a way with words, and his prose is beautifully fluid. While this didn’t have quite as many quotable quotes as The Fault in Our Stars, it wasn’t hard to just revel in the prose.

I did, however, have trouble connecting to the story. Not only were the character’s John’s standard mix, and thus, in my mind, boring, but being a fan of the Vlogbrothers on YouTube meant that I could see John in everything. In hobbies and interests he wound into the story. In references mentioned in his videos. The curse of knowledge surely had its effect on me. I kept getting drawn out of the story because of all these connections, and I can’t help but wish I knew nothing about John so that this wouldn’t have bothered me.

Now we come to the plot. It’s hard to talk about it without spoiling things but… I thought it was rather obvious what was going to happen. There was a lot of foreshadowing that I picked up on, and instead of it being subtle and beautiful, because I wasn’t too connected to the characters or engrossed in the story, as an outsider looking in, I clearly saw the traces of the author’s plotting, setting up the domino pieces in exactly the right layout to let it all fall down. So, when it happened, I didn’t even blink. The shock factor had been eliminated due to the foreshadowing.

Summing Up:

Like most grief stories, your liking of Looking for Alaska will hinge on your ability to connect with the characters and feel empathy for their situation. None of this happened for me. I’m sure you may want to yell at me, that I missed the point of this book or whatever, but no, I get it. I get why people like it. But it just isn’t my thing. And it likely never will be. Arguably, I would have been more impressed if I read this a couple years ago, but now, with my reading experience… nope.

GIF it to me straight!

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Recommended To:

Fans of If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman.

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17 responses to “Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

  1. Hahahahaha, I totally read Abundance and Fault in Our Stars first, too, and I was equally unimpressed. His books are all about the same people, you know? The so-cool-he’s-misunderstood kid and blah blah. Even Fault in Our Stars wasn’t that different. This book is harder to like especially since it’s his debut and I really don’t think he’d found his stride. Like you, I freely admit that he’s a talented author, but…nah. Not a fan. Especially of him as a person.

    But probably you can always count on me to join you in disliking something, because that’s just who I am… *guilty shrug*
    Renae @ Respiring Thoughts recently posted The Best (and worst) Books of 2013!My Profile

    • Hahaha and I will always love you for being there when I do dislike something xD *hugs*

      I dunno, The Fault in Our Stars is relatively different, imo, but also it was the first of his books that I read. I am 99% sure that if I reread it today I wouldn’t give it 5 stars. I’d probably still like it, but I wouldn’t be as wowed. *sigh* When he comes out with something new, I’ll be waiting for a lot of other peoples’ opinions first, and then I’ll only pick it up if they say it’s really super different than anything he’s done before. Because so far… he’s looking like a one-trick pony.

  2. I actually couldn’t finished this one too (Even though IfI Stay is practically one of the only 5 books that managed to make me cry)! And whoa, I didn’t read until that mega-awkward blowjob scene, but now I definitely had to check that out. I really should choke them both if they were real 0.0

    Glad to know I’m not the only one here while everyone else seemed to be shoving this book around saying how it had touched them so deep. I feel kinda sad and estranged -_-

    Anyway, thanks for sharing Debby!

    Neysa @ [B.O.O.K.L.I.F.E]
    Neysa Kristanti recently posted End of Year Book SurveyMy Profile

  3. I loved Looking for Alaska, but it’s the only John Green book I seem to be able to really like. I mean, The Fault in Our Stars & Paper Towns were decent–I gave them each 3 stars, though now that seems a little generous–and I wonder if it’s because I read Looking for Alaska first. You’re completely right in that his characters might as well all be the same people. The first time, they’re endearing and unique and fundamentally flawed but human and smart(at least to me). The second time, they’re annoying repeats. Which might be why I love Looking for Alaska, but didn’t love the other two John Green books I read. Of course, I do really like grief stories, so that might also be a factor.
    Stormy recently posted A December 2013 Wrap-UpMy Profile

  4. I hate to admit it, but you’ve totally nailed it with John Green having a style that he falls back on time and time again with his characters and such. The girls are especially similar which has left me pretty -_- but I can’t help but fist pump for his geeky male characters. Double standards and all that I know but it’s the truth.

    Did you love the Colonel, at least?! PLEASE?
    Lisa Schensted recently posted Review: InsurgentMy Profile

  5. I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said about John Green and his writing. Each book just feels the same and while I haven’t read Looking for Alaska yet, I have read his other books and frankly, am not seeing the appeal of him. Like I guess TFIOS was good and I liked it but all the books after that just weren’t. And if I didn’t want to read this book then, I definitely don’t want to read it now. Especially with the discovery of the scene you described. I think it’d make me uncomfortable too!

  6. I’ve read both An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars and have decided John Green is probably not the author for me. I liked TFIOS for the most part but, as you said, it’s a bit different from his more typical works, and I was not a fan of An Abundance of Katherines AT ALL. So I am positive that Looking for Alaska would not work for me. I’ve even more convinced now after reading your review.
    And ew that part that you mention. That sounds like such an awkward part.
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted Top Ten Books I Read In 2013My Profile

    • Ugh the more I think back on Katherines, the less I like it. It was just soooo meh. So Looking for Alaska was even MORE meh. I dunno. If TFIOS was the turn around point and his next novels are each truly distinct, I may still give it a shot, but I’m definitely skipping Paper Towns. No thank you.

  7. I read Looking for Alaska probably 5 years ago and wasn’t a fan of it. I had friends back then that were in love with John Green’s books so I had to give one a try, and Looking for Alaska was the most recommended. I was really disappointed when I didn’t enjoy it too much 🙁 BUT! I’m really, really happy that I loved TFIOS so much. I have no desire to read any other John Green books (as of now) but maybe if he comes out with more in the future that aren’t as similar to Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, I’ll give them a shot 🙂

    • Yeah, TFIOS is honestly a stand out. I feel like people are getting more and more disillusioned about John Green though. I don’t see as many screaming fangirls as I did a year ago, but that might just be because he hasn’t put a book out in two years. I’ll be curious what he comes up with next, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be letting many others read it before me to see if it’s worth my time.

  8. So far, out of all the John Green books I’ve read, this is the one that I had the smallest, tiniest connection with. I do see why other people loved it, and some parts of it were really great. But overall, it wasn’t my favorite JG book (that spot still belongs to An Abundance of Katherines).
    Alexa S. recently posted Book Blogger Love-a-Thon 2014My Profile

  9. “Here we go, issue 328597 in “The Chronicles of Debby, the Heartless Bitch”.” <- BAHAHAHAHAHA, *craughs a little* I would read these chronicles. A non-fiction account. Debby's disapprovals.

    Grief stories aren't my favorite either. I mean, they can be good, but usually I don't care about the person that died because they're NOT ALIVE in the book I'm reading, so I get tired of all the grieving. Christina is also a heartless bitch. Also, Alaska is the worst. Just the worst.

    The blowjob thing. OMG. I still can't believe I managed to forget that scene in a book I've read twice. It almost makes me want to reread the book just for the lols, but no.

    I hate the foreshadowing hammer. I GOT IT.
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted Review: The Gods of Heavenly PunishmentMy Profile

    • HAHA, I’ll pass it along to my biographer. xD

      That is a good freaking point – I’m supposed to care so much about a character I barely even got to know? NO. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

      I’m cringing thinking back on that scene. I cannot even.

      HEARTLESS BITCH CLUB, YEAH!

  10. Megan

    Everything you said, I’m in agreement. I shared no connection with the characters and the “days before” I had it narrowed down to two things happened, and both of them ended up coming true. There was no shock value, like you said, and I felt absolutely no grief. I read as fast as possible so I could move on to another book, not because I was enthralled.

    Thanks for the review. I’m just relieved I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t in love with the book because it had John Green tacked on the end.

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