Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

I had read so many summaries of John Green novels written by my students that I wanted to choose a novel I didn’t know about. This is his first novel, and none of my students had ever reviewed it or spoiled it for me.

Like Green’s other works, this is a young adult novel, a coming of age work following a boy nicknamed “Pudge” who goes away to boarding school. In his life prior to boarding school, he had no real friends and no real life. When he arrives at the boarding school, he is drawn into a world of pranks, drinking, smoking, and philosophy. He pushes himself beyond his comfort zone, making friends in the process.

The chapter headings indicate “X Days Before” or “X Days After,” alluding to an event surrounding Pudge’s new friend (and crush), Alaska. I won’t reveal in this review what happens involving her, but it forces Pudge and his friends to question life, hence the coming of age portion.

I started reading this novel over the summer and then forgot about it (not because it wasn’t good; simply because I misplaced it and became distracted reading other things). So it might be that I was in a different place reading the first half, but I remember getting annoyed at Pudge’s new friends in the beginning of the novel because they were encouraging him to do things like drink and play pranks on others.

But then, as the novel went along, I saw that maybe I was being a little too uptight—the way Pudge was in his old life—and missing some of what makes life fun and memorable. It’s a young adult novel, so it’s somewhat predictable, and it’s got its share of profanities and “bad” things, like minor alcohol use and sex. But overall it’s a solid coming of age book that I would have benefitted from as a teenager. It reminds me of Dead Poets Society, only without a “Captain” to lead the youths—they are left to discover the “Great Beyond” of life on their own, synthesizing their own discussions with what they are learning in school and experiencing in life.