There’s a stage I remember in high school where everything becomes a paradox. Even things that are completely straightforward suddenly have two opposing sides. Looking for Alaska, by John Green, and they way I feel about the book, brought me back to that time. And I can’t decide if that was the genius or flawed quality of the writing. To me, the book seemed like a strange combination of very interesting but not believable or relatable characters and very ordinary but marvelously described situations.
The characters all seemed to be to fit into the categories of cliché or anti-cliché. The protagonist, Miles/Pudge (so nicknamed because of his scrawny stature), is the smart unpopular kid who never fit in at home but makes friends with a group of outsiders (a paradox in itself, perhaps, but maybe I’m stretching) when he decides to spend 11th grade at his father’s old boarding school. This band of misfits is made up of his roommate (the bitter but brilliant scholarship student from a trailer park), Takumi (a stereotype defining Asian rapper), at times Lara(the attractive but shy Russian exchange student) and the center of the book (and title character) Alaska.
We learn a lot about all of the characters, their back-stories, motivations, and goals. But the way we learn them is very upfront and unnatural. The characters feel the need to explain themselves to Miles/Pudge when they meet. You’re understanding of the characters does not develop through out the book. They are interesting, but static. Especially Alaska, who is a fair portrayal of the common female character, who is so different and amazing that everyone reveres her (think zooey deschanel in 500 Days of Summer or Zelda Fitzgerald).
By contrast the plot is fairly predictable. Pudge gets “corrupted” into a fairly genial world of sneaking cigarettes, drinking bad wine, a prank war with the rich and oh so preppy “weekday warriors” and his first sexual experiences along with dealing with religious questions and feeling both drawn to and independent from his parents. Instead of being boring, these sections were so accurately written they remained interesting while being universal. I kept thinking that’s exactly how I felt but explained in better words.
The book was slow going in the beginning, but by the end I felt compelled to finish it quickly. I said I had to run errands during my lunch break, and finished the car in the parking lot of the CVS. With all the hype and praise for John Green’s new book “The Fault in Our Stars” I will definitely follow up with that one soon. But part of me think it’s fun to discover a new author, by reading their first published book.
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