Book Club book #10: Looking for Alaska

After the last couple of books where we basically ran out of ideas and relied on lists compiled by people didn't know to tell us what to read, and then ended-up reading books that just bored us to death, the book club put together one criteria for the next book: it had to be written in this century. The classics weren't doing it for us, so we thought to go new, or new-ish.

So I put forward this book as it was on my to-read list, it just happened to fulfil the 'this century' criteria, and nobody else really objected to it (or couldn't come up with their own suggestions!).

Looking for Alaska

Book, $6.03 USD on Kindle, written by John Green,
Looking for Alaska cover

Before book club started, I frequented the local library quite often, in particular the sci-fi/fantasy and young adult (YA) sections because I thought that those 2 areas had the books that really tested my imagination. Whenever I read a book, I always accompany the words on the page with an image of exactly what is happening at each moment; it's like I build a movie in my head, based on the narrative I'm reading at the time.

Books from the sci-fi/fantasy section are obviously filled with out-of-this-world things, really taxing my imagination to come up with the appropriate imagery for what is being described - alien species, interstellar travel, wizards and magic in modern day Chicago, it's all there. As for those from the YA section, I like to read from that section because the books there often have quite refreshing ideas - when so many of the non-YA books are murder mysteries / thrillers / relationship stories, it's refreshing to read something that doesn't fit into any of those genres.

(For example, in Maureen Johnson's Devilish, the main character's best friend has made a deal with the devil, and it's up to her to win the soul of her besty back. Think you'd find a book like that anywhere else in the library?)

Looking for Alaska is a YA novel that doesn't have an imagination-stretching strange idea, but I've heard good things about it and I really haven't read a YA book since book club started, so for me it felt like a bit of a homecoming to the YA section that I used to frequent.

This story is about Miles "Pudge" Halter, who has thus far had a pretty safe and uneventful life. He has this thing with remembering last words, and the last words of poet Francois Rabelais talk about going out into the world to find "the Great Perhaps". So for his next school year he attends Culver Creek Boarding School, far from home, where he makes new and exciting friends (who give him the nickname Pudge), one of whom is Alaska Young: bright, vivacious, sexy, screwed-up, an utter enigma. Alaska pulls Pudge into her life, steals his heart... and then nothing is ever the same.

It's kind of difficult for me to say much more about what happens without giving anything away. The story is told in 2 parts: 'before' and 'after' a specific event that takes place roughly half-way through the book. Every chapter reads like a diary entry with every entry made relative to that event, so you know something is coming up. Maybe some of you will see the thing coming, but I wasn't really sure what to expect until it happened.

I liked a lot of the 'before' part of the book more than the 'after' because, after the event, the book kind of takes a 'life lesson' / moralistic turn, in that the Pudge and his friends then spend a lot of their time trying to make sense of what happened and figuring out what to do next. This happens in many coming-of-age stories, but I think I've finally got to the point where coming-of-age events aren't that big a deal for me any more, just because I'm older now. I've got to the point where I've experienced so much of what life has to throw at me that any time I see someone else struggling with how to deal with life events, I react in one of 2 ways: 1) supportively of the person now going through something, or 2) impatiently as I wait for that other person to get through to the end of what they're experiencing so we can finally talk about other things.

In Looking for Alaska, my reaction was more towards #2.

That doesn't mean I think that only one half of the book was good. I think all of the book was good, but the second part held a lot less value for me simply because I've been alive for long enough: I've been there, I've done that.

Despite my age, the book did present me with a first: it was the first time I ever felt too old to read YA fiction.

7 out of 10.