After reading An Abundance of Katherines, I presumed that John Greens debut novel Looking for Alaska would take the same approach to portraying the youth, however it would be a raw, organic version considering that it was the first novel he wrote.
I have to confess. After reading The Fault in our Stars, I have become predisposed to judge every other novel – written before or after it – against the former one and every single time, other novels seem deficient in comparison. Perhaps it’s because such a riveting and emotionally-captivating novel that uncovers the truth about the pungency of love that is doomed from the onset is one that cannot be outshone.
That is why – this time round – I lowered my predetermined ‘John Green Books’ standards and read Looking for Alaska from the perspective that incomplex stories with palpable truths uncovered at the end are what characterise a John Green book. And I have to say, I enjoyed reading this book a lot. It was amusing, uncomplicated and illustrated a story about a straightforward and ‘uncool’ teenage boy Miles Halter – also known as Pudge – with a basic lifestyle, a fascination with the last words of famous figures and an eagerness to move away from his mundane school life in Florida and search for a ‘Great Perhaps’ (the last words of François Rabelais) in a boarding school in Culver Creek.
Miles meets a few people that become central characters of the book; the first is Chip (also known as ‘The Colonel’ and the person who gives Miles the name ‘Pudge’), Takumi and lastly, Alaska Young – an untameable, mysterious, beautiful girl with fluctuating moods and a puzzling aura that keeps Miles hooked from the moment he lays eyes on her. The story laces around the dreary lives of mischievous teenagers fastened around eating, sleeping, smoking, drinking, studying and playing pranks on other kids.
On the outset, the book appeared dull and repetitive (at one point I felt overwhelmed as a reader at the amount of cigarettes smoked by this young group of 5) and often, it seemed as if the story wasn’t really headed anywhere. However, there were intermittent junctures where conversations about the meaning of life, guilt, grief and a ‘labyrinth’ that encompassed the remainder of the story. There are also fleeting moments of philosophising which I – as a Philosophy graduate – appreciated and acknowledged as being a key characteristic of John Green books. His books always disclose valuable messages hidden deep within the storyline which we, as readers, need to spell out for ourselves. And that is what makes John Green the phenomenal writer that he is.
He doesn’t need flowery language or the ability to describe every event, place and experience with the utmost skill – it is his simplistic language that unfolds key revelations that make his stories different from anything else you’ve read. This is why his stories tell uncomplicated stories with the intention to expose truths that can be easily discerned in a clever manner, in the sort of way that leaves the reader exasperated at end; wondering whether she read a story or a philosophical fable that taught her much more about life than she knew before.
So sure, the story is simple and clear and the empathetic levels are not as intense as in his other book TFIOS, however, the key message enlivens the reader and allows them to feel enlightened by the end.
Therefore, even though Miles is a young boy who falls in love with a girl as mismatched to him as Alaska – the story is much more than that. It is about understanding what our ‘Great Perhaps’ is, whether there even is one, what the labyrinth of our life is and how do we get out of it. There is so much more to his book than just a few teenagers pulling pranks, attending school and grieving their lost friend.
This book is a bundle of philosophical wisdom told in the simplest way possible.
So for those of you who love reading simple stories with vital philosophical messages, I suggest you head on over to your nearest book store and purchase Looking for Alaska.