Genre: YA fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins
“In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette, but even in the dark, I could see her eyes – fierce emeralds. And not just beautiful, but hot too.”
Alaska Young. Gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, screwed up – and utterly fascinating. Miles Halter could not be more in love with her. But when tragedy strikes, Miles discovers the value and the pain of living and loving unconditionally.
Nothing will ever be the same.
I found this novel problematic, and it took me a while to figure it out, but I think I’ve finally got it. I just didn’t have that magical FWUSH moment when my mind was suddenly just overcome by the story and I was trapped in Miles’s world. I felt detached the whole time, and that was due to the part of me that just kept repeating, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope,” because there were so many things that I just couldn’t look past in favor of enjoying the storyline.
And forgive me for this, because after reading a couple of other reviews, it seems like the majority of people loved it. So maybe it is just me, but I really feel that I need to draw attention to a few major issues.
Okay, so let me just get out there and say that, to me, it felt like John Green had made up a list of all the things he needed in order to write a bestselling novel, and then systematically checked off the necessities. Nerdy protagonist with an endearing habit? Check. Stunningly beautiful, yet horribly damaged, tragic heroine? Check. Arrogant and amusing sidekick? Check. Alcohol abuse? Check. Plot twist regarding said heroine’s tragic mishap? Check. Obviously he wouldn’t do that intentionally (I hope), but there seemed to be significantly less thought given to the way in which the story unfolded, the life decisions his characters made, or what he was ultimately encouraging his teen readers to do.
Like, hey, you wanna be the real life equivalent of Alaska? (Although, WHY?) Sure, you’re smart and conventionally pretty, but you’ll need a dangerous drinking habit and dark mood swings if you wanna attract innocent, yet also attractive, nerds like Miles.
Speaking of Alaska – I hated her so much that I often felt the need to rip up the book and burn it just so that her toxic presence couldn’t seep out of the pages. She was far too perfect – and by that I mean that John Green had tried to make her as attractive and inoffensive as possible whilst simultaneously creating a female that all teenage boys could feature in their sexual fantasies. You only have to look at the blurb and a couple of quotes: not only is she extremely intelligent (“I may die young,” she said, “but at least I’ll die smart.”) and a feminist (“DO NOT OBJECTIFY WOMEN’S BODIES!” Alaska shouted) and an avid reader (“I’m going to read them all.”), but she’s also “petite (but, God, curvy)” and consequently “the hottest girl in all of human history.” And then of course there’s the mandatory emotional damage, excessive drinking and smoking habits, and “unpredictability” – her fatal flaws that make her all the more endearing to Miles.
See? On the surface, Alaska is the girl that every boy wants. Her emotional instability is supposed to give her depth, but it just makes her simultaneously pitiful and hopelessly dislikeable. She consistently emotionally blackmails all of her friends into ruining their lives for her mere entertainment, and they continue to follow her like lost puppies in the aftermath of her predictable tragedy.
Ultimately, Green’s highly acclaimed novel is pretty damn ordinary. A decent storyline is buried right at the core if you can overlook all the problematic elements that build up to a horribly dissatisfactory ending in which nothing is resolved at all. Arguably, it had its moments, and was witty and cute at the times I didn’t catch myself cringing. So I’ll be fair in my rating and give it a solid “it didn’t suck that much” three stars.
Recommended to: People who can shut off the little voices in their heads that whine about ethics and stereotypes.
The Last Word
I read Paper Towns before I read Looking for Alaska, but throughout the latter I couldn’t shake the feeling that something felt eerily familiar. Then it hit me. Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin Jacobsen are the oil paintings based on the carbon sketches of Alaska Young and Miles Halter. Even their stories are vaguely similar: geeky teenage boy chases after unattainable, unpredictable, hopelessly hot teenage girl until she finally kisses him. Once. And then that’s it for them. (Well, to be fair in Paper Towns the kiss signals the end of their story, and in Looking for Alaska… um… no spoilers.)
Also check this out:
“That didn’t happen, of course. Things never happened the way I imagined them.” – Looking for Alaska
“Nothing ever happens like you imagine it will.” – Paper Towns
It’s like John Green liked the idea so much that it stuck in his head from 2006 until he wrote Paper Towns. That’s pretty cool. Consider it labeled as a mere coincidence (even though I kinda want to use it as proof that he based Paper Towns off the same ideals, characters and basic plot as Looking for Alaska, but that would be a bit too judgmental).