Sunday, 15 July 2012

Looking for Alaska

John Green

I think what we all realise now as adults, that we have no idea of when we're teenagers, is that being a teenager is hard for pretty much everyone. As in all things, hindsight is 20/20 and now we can look back on those days and know that the kids who were better looking, or funnier, or cooler or richer were struggling just as much as we were. But when you're in the belly of the beast, it feels like you're the only one. It's part of what draws adult readers to this kind of fiction - being able to experience and analyse those emotions again as a reader, with the benefit of a bit more like experience and knowledge - hopefully.

John Green is a name that I have been hearing (or reading) again and again. Until recently I had never read any of his novels, just read plenty about what a great writer he is, so I thought that I would stick with the YA theme for this week's read and review "Looking for Alaska."  Of course, now I'm asking myself why I didn't start reading his novels earlier... There were moments when I wanted to dive inside the pages and tell some of the characters that, no really, it IS actually all going to be okay. It takes a really talented writer (in any genre or format) to create characters who cover well-trodden ground without being cliched or one-dimensional and Green achieves this while using some familiar situations and plot devices.

The most familiar plot device and frankly, one that I always enjoy, is setting the story inside a boarding school. I know the reality of boarding schools is most likely completely different from how fiction and our imaginations tell us it is, but seriously, it seems like so much fun. No parents! Pranks galore! Hanging out with your friends ALL the time! The main character Pudge - obsessed with last words - goes to Culver Creek to "seek a great perhaps," as he tells his parents. And that's pretty much what he finds - that everything is a perhaps, and even those who think they have all the answers, really are just making it up. He also finds friendship with his room mate, "The Colonel" and the alluring, clever, self-destructive and more than a little pain-in-the-ass Alaska.

Looking for Alaska is a short novel, but it packs a pretty good punch, dealing with some heavy issues. Life, death and the existence of an afterlife are mixed in amongst the more everyday love, sex, rules, friendship and family. It's all explored in a way that's real and funny, sad and sweet. The book was first published in 2005, years after I left high school behind. Not that I have the slightest desire to return to my teenage years, but I do wonder what it would have been like to read it as a seventeen year old - would I have seen things in the novel that I miss now?

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