Caution: This review contains some spoilers.

With The Fault in Our Stars, the movie adaptation of John Green’s latest bestseller having just been released to theaters this past weekend, I decided to backtrack and reread his very first book, Looking for Alaska.

Released in 2005, Looking for Alaska follows the story of Miles Halter, a quiet, bookish teenager who decides to leave his mundane life in Florida to spend his last two years of high school at Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama. Within his first few days, he meets and makes friends, earning the nickname “Pudge” from his roommate. Pudge’s experiences become defined after he becomes enamored by Alaska Young, an enigmatic and spontaneous girl who introduces him into a crazy and wild life consisting of pulling pranks on the dean, sneaking into the woods to smoke and other antics. But after tragedy strikes, Pudge and his friends are left looking for answers they may never find.

While there are multiple inappropriate elements embedded in the story, such as frequent smoking, drinking, some sexual references and mild language, the book addresses one of the great questions of life: Why. Why does stuff have to happen? Why does it happen to certain people? Does everything really happen for a reason? In my opinion, this central theme overshadows the questionable actions of the characters; actions that actually happen in real life, adding to the story’s realistic value.

I found some aspects in the story to be very relatable. Pudge’s reflection on Culver Creek’s positive impact within his life reminded me of my own experience of how studying abroad changed my life for the better. Going to a new place where you don’t know anybody can be intimidating, but learning how to integrate within unfamiliar circumstances can be an important and enlightening experience.

I also found the interwoven theme of an untimely death relatable, as Pudge and his friends are left trying to balance their grief and asking questions they may never know the answers to. Having known somebody from high school who passed away in a house fire a few years ago, I found myself asking the same questions as to why horrible things happen to such great people. Not knowing the answer can be hard, but communicating with others about it and accepting it has to happen sometimes, a point the book emphasizes.

John Green has stated on his website that Looking for Alaska is autobiographical, with him having attended a school that resembles Culver Creek in many ways. I’ve always enjoyed books that are based on the lives and experiences of the author in some form, knowing that they have the real idea as to what the characters can be feeling. I find it harder to write about something that you haven’t experienced, since it involves attempting to understand the emotions or circumstances surrounding that event and having to rely on outside references to help create the setting.

Since The Fault in Our Stars has been successful enough to spawn a film, it gives me hope that Looking for Alaska will someday be on the big screen as well. I definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a realistic portrayal of teen life about self-discovery, grief, loss and accepting change.

 

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