“Looking for Alaska” – Is this Novel Worthy of the Acclamation of Being a Classic?

Book Review : Looking for Alaska by John Green

Spoiler Alert!

Miles Halter is tall and skinny, has no friends and loves to memorize people’s famous last words. Miles latches onto Francois Rabelais’ last words, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Miles decides to move from Florida to attend the same boarding school his father attended in Alabama in seeking his own Great Perhaps.

Miles, who is now known as Pudge, is thrown into a friendship with his roommate, the Colonel, Takumi and Alaska, the sexy girl that leaves all boys slobbering in her wake. Together these friends explore what it means to live life and how to survive. Not only will they figure out how to survive, but they have planned the greatest prank ever.

Adult Point of View

Spoiler Alert!

My first question is what point is John Green trying to make in Looking for Alaska amidst the prolific smoking, drinking, sexual references and experiences, drugs and cursing? There are two key quotes in the book which serves as the foundation for the entire book. 1 – “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” from Francois Rabelais. The Great Perhaps becomes a symbol for hope. All of us need to have hope while we go through life and teenagers in particular while they go through a time of exploration. 2 – “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” from Simon Bolivar. The Labyrinth moves away from the idea of being life and death to symbolizing suffering for Pudge and Alaska. Again, everyone needs to learn how to move through suffering. Finally, death is faced by these young people. With such universal themes Looking for Alaska could be seen as a classic.

My angst over calling this novel a classic comes from the pervasive amount of trash I had to wade through to get to the core message. I was particularly bothered in the scene when Alaska and Pudge have stayed at the school through Thanksgiving, and snooped in all the students rooms finding that EVERY single person had contraband substances, such as, porn, booze, drugs, ect. How does it influence the teens reading this book when shown that deviant behavior is universal and normal? All teens have to figure out who they are and some will resort to alcohol and these other behaviors, but not all teens go to such an extreme. I did not like it when the boys refer to how Alaska loves sex. Statistically the majority of teenage girls who have sex don’t like it and feel pressured into having sex and are using sex as a substitute for feeling loved in their lives. Alaska could have been shown as using sex as a substitution for love because of the death of her mother and possibly the emotional distance with her father. I don’t like seeing books misrepresent the psychological effects of sex on teenagers.

Alaska dies about two thirds of the way through the novel in a senseless car wreck when she is driving drunk. Usually I feel sorrowful when a main character in the book dies, however, I was not surprised and felt rather callous to the entire situation. Alaska’s character acted as the catalyst for her friends in drinking, pranks and sexual exploration. She was described as sexy and beautiful which seemed to be the most important aspect of her though she was also a great tutor for precal. She also mocked her friends, was selfish, self-absorbed and dangerous and I didn’t like her as a human being. Miles/Pudge caved into peer pressure by drinking and smoking when he actually didn’t want to participate. He was weak and very lackluster as a character. I’ve questioned why Pudge even became friends with this group of people except through pure accident. The Colonel had a lot of charisma as the engineer that organized the pranks, he was prejudiced against the rich kids because he came from such a poor background. Takumi’s claim to fame was that he could rap on the spot, but his character was not developed. There are flirtations with deep thinking with random quotes and snippets of theological lectures thrown in, but it is not enough because there is so much thrown in that does not have a purpose except to show that kids rebel in an expression of exploration of their identity. Soul searching is a lot more than getting drunk.

The last third of the novel pulls together the pieces exploring hope and suffering as the Colonel and Pudge try to discover why Alaska died, as an accident or as a suicide. In the end they realize they will never really know the answer, but they understand Alaska’s motivation for leaving that night a bit more as they realize she was upset having missed the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Many people want to know the effects of death from this novel. I believe death is shown in a dual nature. It is an escape from the labyrinth of suffering, but it also is the cause of more suffering and a sense of abandonment for Pudge and the Colonel, even as Alaska had been abandoned by her mother’s death. Death is not shown as the answer.

Looking for Alaska becomes a novel about living through suffering, having hope and finally having forgiveness. For me Looking for Alaska was about 95% trash and 5% soul searching and worthwhile. I will not pass this novel on to my teens. If you let your teens read this book you should also know that there is an explicit oral sex-scene in addition to other sexual references, and there is cursing on every page.

I can see why others have found it riveting, but sensationalism isn’t realism, and isn’t enough to make a good novel. I wanted more depth and a truer picture for teenagers. Even with the symbolism I cannot justify calling this book worth reading.

(Some have asked what could be a picture that would symbolize the novel, I would use a bottle of Stawberry Hill wine replacing the strawberries with skull and cross-bones.)

1 out 5 stars

– the Mother

ps- I am not the only one who found this novel to be entirely inappropriate.

For another opinion go to:

http://theknoxvillejournal.com/pornographic-required-reading-in-knox-schools/

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Knoxville Journal:

Out of 216 pages there are 281 occurrences of such words Seal considers inappropriate for any 15-year-old. That calculates to 1.3 times per page which indicates to Seal that it is the theme of the book.  “If a teacher should get up and say these words in front of a class of students, they would be put in jail, and should be fired,”  Lori Seal told the Journal.

Seal read straight from the book out loud to the Board. The Knoxville Journal chose not to print an excerpt she read due to the explicit language.

The board members sat speechless at hearing such language. Two from the audience walked out. After reading the passages containing a number of what she termed “inappropriate for high school sophomores” she asked the Board to take appropriate action and remove “Looking for Alaska” from the schools, especially as required reading.

“I not only think they should take it off the required reading list, they should take it out of the schools,” Seal added, “What literary benefit would my son gain from reading this book. It is pure porn.

She said even some of her liberal friends were appalled and expressed outrage after learning their teenager was required to read “Looking for Alaska”.

Teen Point of View

I was surprised when Alaska died, I did not expect that. The problem was even though I felt bad for her that she had died I never liked her as a character. Here she was suppose to be so wonderful, but she never did anything great. I couldn’t respect her and the way she handled her problems. I didn’t like Pudgy because he was a push-over and his named sucked. Almost all of the names were terrible. I did like how Takumi was the fox. I was impressed that the author wasn’t scared to kill off a main character. It was an okay book.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2 1:2 star

– the Daughter

*Please note, I did not give this novel to my teenager! She picked it up at the school library and read it on her own. Now that she is over sixteen she makes her own choices in reading and discusses her reading with me. I told her I never would have recommended it to her and why I didn’t like it.

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About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow cooked in a tagine. Weekly I get together with friends and go to yoga for a bit of mommy time. Some may find me quirky, I prefer to think I am one of a kind.
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2 Responses to “Looking for Alaska” – Is this Novel Worthy of the Acclamation of Being a Classic?

  1. Melissa says:

    “Statistically the majority of teenage girls who have sex don’t like it and feel pressured into having sex and are using sex as a substitute for feeling loved in their lives.”

    Where did you get that information? As Alaska would say, that’s a very misguided judgement of women – its very possible that Alaska enjoyed sex. Not every teenage girl feels preasured into having sex, and then don’t like it. When you say “statistically” it implies that the has been tests/experiments done. I’d be very interested to know the details of those.

    • One of the books that I referenced concerning teenage girls and sex is “Strong Fathers Strong Daughters” by Dr. Meg Meeker. Statistics speak in generalizations and averages, of course there will be girls who have sex and enjoy it, but that is atypical. I also state this opinion based on the therapy that I have provided for many women, none of the women who came to receive help in counseling had positive experiences with sex as a teenager. Finally, note that Alaska is a fictional character and her character did love sex, I just didn’t find it plausible especially since it was obvious that she felt abandoned by her mother’s death and her father’s actions. Alaska has no positive adult role models, and she was desperately seeking to be loved as witnessed by her outrageous behaviors. You are welcome to embrace this book, but I did not enjoy it.

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