Let me clear one thing up: I am a 23-year-old gay man. This is a fact not up for argument. And yet suddenly I find myself in love with an entirely fictional, female character. Alaska Young, I’m yours.
In Looking For Alaska, John Green has created a character that lives and breathes, a beating heart full of the tragic-beautiful, die-pretty, lightning-in-the-night alchemy that fictional characters barely achieve. She might be another in the YA-lit ilk of ‘daring love interest who sweeps the nervous geeky kid along for the ride’ but I’ve read and seen that story before, and Looking For Alaska leaves those resting in the dirt.
And as if Alaska Young herself wasn’t enough, all of Green’s other characters are equally as fleshed out and just plain real. Miles Halter, the narrator and main character, is simultaneously the geeky outside without the wispiness and weakness that other writers have given to that archetype. And by the emotional final third, you can actually feel his story, rather than just see it.
I’ve not explained much of the story so far: essentially, Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter moves away to a boarding school where he meets a group of friends who are both outrageously intelligent and rebellious. The kind of friends who read Vonnegut on the beach with wine, and then get trashed and set off fireworks in the Dean’s house. What the novel succeeds in most–and it’s something that is explicitly picked out at two points–is the invincibility and vividness of being a teenager. It can elevate the melodrama and pain and elation and joy and confusion and nervousness and turn it into the kind of sad-happy reading experience that I look for in any novel; it manages to somehow recall and transform exactly what being young was like.
(It also contains the funniest, most awkward sex scene I’ve ever read.)
I’m aware that this entire review is essentially gushing superlatives. I’ve even gone back through and toned it done, but I did just genuinely love this book so much. So many coming of age novels and films promise to show their characters finding out the ‘truth about life and death’ and are little more than a bunch of teenagers nervously fumbling through life. Which is part of it, of course. But Looking For Alaska delivers, and I have abruptly become a complete fangirl for John Green.
Now, off to Amazon to buy Paper Cities and An Abundance of Katherines.