First drink. First prank. First friend. First love.
Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words–and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet François Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.
It physically pains me to rate Looking for Alaska so low, but I can’t let my personal feelings for John Green mask the problematic narrative.
I hate the damaged beautiful girl trope for so many reasons, especially in this case: Alaska is a fucking nightmare. If she weren’t pretty, none of these people would put up with her nonsense, and this wouldn’t be a story. Alaska’s physical attributes are described at least once a chapter (even in the ‘after’ – which is more than a little messed up). I’m sorry, being hot is not a personality, and it doesn’t fix a shitty one. All Miles talks about is how much he can’t stand her personality, and then she’s nice to him for half a second or makes a suggestive comment, and he’s in love. Then she goes right back to being a shitty person, and he can’t stand her and repeat ad nauseam. Until, of course, she
and suddenly it’s love, and she’s perfect, and no one else could ever understand her or their love.
I did like Lara, Takumi, and even Chip. Lara is impressive – she knows what she deserves and stands up for herself when Miles is an ass. I felt terrible for her and Takumi – Chip and Miles huddle in the ‘after’ and exclude them, even though they were a real part of the group in the ‘before’. I liked that Chip seemed to be the only guy immune to Alaska’s charm – maybe because he’s a bit of a dick as well? Instead of expecting to get by on looks, though, he has more of an awareness of the real world and how to cultivate and maintain relationships, whereas Alaska expects everyone to put up with her shit.
On a side note, Alaska and Miles snooping through everyone else’s belongings over Thanksgiving is a pretty shitty thing to do. Everyone is entitled to their privacy, regardless of how you may feel about them. It’s only a small part in Looking for Alaska, but it just cemented my opinion of Alaska and Miles – not only did they disregard their classmates’ privacy, but they preceded to judge them on their belongings – and it bothered me.
I love John Green, his writing style, his many projects, his view of the world, and how open he has been when discussing his mental health. Despite this, I do find some of his early work, particularly Looking for Alaska, problematic. This is the first of his books I’ve reread in a while so I’m hoping I haven’t imagined the evolution of his writing over time. I find it hard to marry the tone of this narrative to the person I believe Green to be, especially with the years of accumulated evidence (from Vlogbrothers to The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast, to name a few examples) supporting my view. It’s hard to deny that some of my favourite authors have published work much earlier than Looking for Alaska that have aged much better, but I’m not ready to give up hope just yet.