Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green


Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 16 to 19, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended for: people who like realistic YA fiction

This book is ridiculous.


I mean, not for me.

Let’s start with some quotes

So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.


It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.


Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war.


I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God.


I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.


It’s not life or death, the labyrinth. Suffering. Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That’s the problem. Bolivar was talking about the pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering?


“Sometimes I don’t get you,” I said.
She didn’t even glance at me. She just smiled toward the television and said, “You never get me. That’s the whole point.”

Oh the humanity. There’s only so much of these I could take before the book becomes papier-mache (if it weren’t a borrowed or library copy). I’ve never quoted so much from a book I can’t stand, but I think these quotes are worth noting. They’re representative of the book as a whole. If you like them, you’ll like the book.

Objectively speaking, this book is a quick read and it’s not bad, not as bad as I make it sound. The basis of the story is about teenagers at a boarding school. One of them falls for a girl named Alaska, but it’s unrequited and the rest of the book is about dealing with grief. So it’s a fairly average, sort of nuanced narrative about the pains of growing up that has echoes of its forerunners, Perks of Being a Wallflower and Catcher in the Rye. What sets it apart from Perks and Catcher is all those quotable quotes above and a quirky cast of characters (and a manic pixie dream girl).

I had no expectations going into this book even though all I’d heard were good things about John Green’s writing, and after years of encountering rave reviews of his books and youtube videos, I finally got the chance to see what all the hype was about. His youtube videos–the educational ones–are great. They actually educate and cover a variety of topics and subject matter. I especially like his Crash Course series which covers literature, history, science, politics, and other subjects that might not be taught in some schools like psychology and sociology.

Green’s writing, however, is…just not for me. Not just because it’s YA, but because it’s wordy and tries too hard to be funny, heartfelt, and transcendent, all at the same time. Sort of like Nicholas Sparks but more self and socially aware, and aimed at a younger, hipper audience. So the result is prose that can easily be taken out of context and quoted all over the place–made into t-shirts, banners, posters, movies, etc etc. That’s the sense I got anyway, that Green’s writing tries too hard to be unparalleled and that I can literally see what he’s trying to do by telling this story. It comes across as forced and stiff and sometimes awkward. But maybe that’s a YA thing and it’s way over my head?

So in short, this book is not for me. It didn’t help that I found the plot and characters pretentious and overreaching, and I’m fully aware how that sounds coming from me, someone who counts Cloud Atlas, House of Leaves, and Infinite Jest among her favorites. So this isn’t a critique of the book or Green’s writing, but a reflection of my personal taste and why books like Looking for Alaska don’t work for me.

Sometimes pretentiousness works if it has a point and impresses more than repels. But sometimes it falls short and comes off as trying too hard.


8 thoughts on “Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

  1. thebookgator June 22, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    I was puzzled from the start–why does it say “electric debut from the award-winning author”?
    Given those quotes, I think the author would drive me nutty. “It always shocked me when I realized” … are you realizing the same thing repeatedly? If so, I don’t think “realize” is the verb that works. Or at least change “always.”
    “Mischief” does not win the war, not even the war on graffiti, and thank goodness I’ve never compared myself or other people to water dripping from the sky, because I don’t know what I’d come up with. Mist, probably.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi June 23, 2015 / 9:26 am

      LOL, IKR? I can’t figure out why so many people think John Green is such a witty wordsmith. Maybe it’s a YA thing? This book is average at best, and I would go so far to say a good chunk of it is emotionally manipulative. Maybe that’s why people fall for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paris Carter June 22, 2015 / 6:54 pm

    Hey, I read through this book and fell in love with it. It’s currently my favorite John Green novel. But this book is definitely a love it or hate it kind of novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi June 23, 2015 / 9:29 am

      True. I’m glad you like it, and I do see the appeal. But the writing just isn’t for me.


  3. Steph June 22, 2015 / 7:25 pm

    I was so tempted to read this. …then I read the quotes. Thank you for curing me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi June 23, 2015 / 9:32 am

      LOL. No, no, you definitely should try it if you’ve always been interested in or wondered about John Green’s writing. But perhaps don’t start with this particular book. The Fault in Our Stars might be better (or so I keep hearing).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steph June 23, 2015 / 10:35 am

        Never read John Green and I thought it sounded interesting…but those quotes. I don’t think it’s something I will like. Also the things you mentioned that bothered you are very likely going to bug me. I’m okay skipping it. Your review was very honest. It wasn’t mean. That said the things you mentioned detailed a book not for me. It helped me make an informed decision and I am grateful for your review

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mimi June 23, 2015 / 1:02 pm

          Thank you. I’m glad I could help. 🙂


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