I walked away from this book feeling like I’d weathered something awful. It felt strange to look up and blink in the slanty afternoon light and realize that everyone else in the world was still humming along. I felt like I got stuck in the pages, wrapped up to what was happening to Miles, the protagonist. I think it’s a sign of a very talented storyteller, to make your audience feel like that.
YALSA would agree. This is the 2006 Printz award winner, given to books exemplifying “literary excellence”. I feel the excellence, too. It’s in the structure: the first half of the book is a countdown; we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know that it will happen in eighty-seven, then fifty-two, then four days. After the cataclysm, the chapters start counting up again, making the central horribleness ground-zero. We watch the characters approach their life-changing event, and we watch them try to rebuild after it.
Miles, or Pudge, as his friends call him, is sixteen, and until this year, his life has been a long, straight road of uneventfulness. He trades all of it in for Culver Creek boarding school, where he pairs up with the genius, dirt-poor Chip, and meets the beautiful, clever, self-destructive Alaska. The three spend the semester plotting elaborate pranks, staying up all night drinking pink wine and talking. Miles is obsessed with collecting last words of famous people, reading biographies and recording death statements, such as the poet Rabelais, who said “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. The Great Perhaps surfaces over and over in this book, as Miles slogs through his World Religion class and, after the tragedy, is forced to rethink everything he’s ever known.
It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I try to reserve that judgment, and use it sparingly, but I really mean it this time. This book is all about the Big Questions, but not in an annoying, philosophical way that comes from someone who hasn’t experienced loss. The author, in an interview, said that if he were to teach the book, he would ask, “What is the point of death? and What is the point of literature? and In an essentially and irreperably broken world, is there cause for hope?” It’s important to think about.
Author’s website: http://johngreenbooks.com/
Green, John. Looking for Alaska. Dutton Books: New York, 2005. 221 pages. Ages 16 and up (sex, smoking, and underage drinking). ISBN 978-0525475064
If you liked this book, try Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.