Sunday, 15 March 2009

Looking for Alaska - John Green

If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.

What can I say? Bloggers rule. Thank you guys for making me, almost forcing me, to pick this book up and read it. I don't think I would have got around it so soon, if it hadn't been for the gazillions of reviews I've seen around the blogworld raving about it. They all made it sound like it was a book you wouldn't want to miss, like a really special book. And I have to say it definitely was.

It's the story of Miles, aka Pudge, who decides to leave his old school to enroll at Culver Creek boarding school in search of a "Great Perhaps". He's the kind of guy who'd rather stay in and read a book. He has no real friends, nothing to hold him back, so he embarks happily in this new adventure, which he hopes will change his life completely. And it will.

This book made me wish I had attended boarding school. Before, I had a kind of dated idea of what a boarding school is like: a fearsome institution where children were sent to as a punishment. A lonely, sad, harsh place from which you'd want to run away as quickly as possible.
Culver Creek is quite the opposite. It actually sounds like a rather fun place to study and live in. Surrounded by woods, graced by a lake guarded by a psychotic swan, the campus becomes the stage of carefully-planned pranks and secret binge drinking sessions. But more importantly, it becomes a place where its students learn a lot about life, and not just on books.

The crowd Miles starts hanging out with is not your average teenage gang. Chip, aka The Colonel is something close to a genius, who is paying the school fees with his scholarship. Miles himself has a passion for famous people's biographies and last words. Takumi is a rhyme wizard, who nonchalantly mentions Arthur Miller and Emily Dickinson in his rapping.
And Alaska...Alaska is the most peculiar of all. Full of energy, passion, courage, but also angst and deep deep sadness. She's funny and cool, sexy and unpredictable. She is a master of pranks, and a tireless defender of women's dignity. She has a room piled with books she has collected all her life (The Life's Library), which she keeps for when she's old and boring. But it doesn't mean she doesn't read, despite what she says. She loves Auden and Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Eyre, but her favourite obsession is with Marquez's The General in his labyrinth, because she has her own labyrinth to escape from.
Obviously Miles takes less than a second to fall madly in love with her. And of course she is unreachable, very much in love with her boyfriend and very determined to be loyal to him.

Theirs is a story about friendship, first love, bufriedos and videogames. About the pains of desire and the much deeper pains of loss. It's hard to talk about it without giving away an important part of the story, but it's enough to say that everything that's dealt with, it's done with a profound perception of human emotions and reactions.
John Green's writing is so skillful. He manages to express longing, regret, confusion, anger and jealousy with the most accessible and yet touching language.

I could have written down pages and pages to quote from, but after a while I was too deepened into the story and too moved, between laughters and tears, that I didn't stop to note great passages. What I'd like to share, though, are two of my favourite funny quotes which recruited me instantly into the "John-Green-is-awesome" fan club.
Because although I've mentioned that there's sorrow and pain, there's just as much of fun and laughters:

(Right at the beginning, when Miles has just moved in his new room, shared with The Colonel)

Chip did not believe in having a sock drawer or a t-shirt drawer. He believed that all drawers were created equal and filled each with whatever fit.

(Alaska's response to Miles' complains after being woken up at 6.30 am on a Saturday by her playing a particularly loud video game)

"Pudge", she said, faux-condescending, "The sound is an integral part of the artistic experience of this video game. Muting Decapitation would be like reading only every other word of Jane Eyre..."

There's isn't much more I'd like to say about it. Just that the characterisations where brilliant, the pranks hilarious, especially the very last one, the ending beautiful, and that I loved loved loved it.

ps: I wish I could have a bufriedo right now!

other blog reviews:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Eva at
Becky’s Book Reviews
Tiny Little Reading Room
Not Enough Bookshelves
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Bart's Bookshelf
The Bluestocking Society
Out of the Blue
Em's Bookshelf
Sassymonkey Reads
Books & Other Thoughts
Nothing of Importance
Book Addiction
Care's Online Bookclub
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Stephanie's confessions of a book-a-holic

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Debi said...

Oh Valentina, this was such a wonderful review of such a wonderful book! You've seriously made me want to go pick it up again right now.

Melody said...

Great review, Valentina! This book is on my wishlist but it looks like I've to buy it sooner after all the raves from you guys. ;)

Ana S. said...

Welcome to the fan club :D I love your review, and I love the fact that you loved it too.

About boarding schools: Harry Potter changed my perception of them, though I'm aware that Hogwarts is not a very realistic example :P

Unknown said...

This is everywhere in the blog world at the moment. Nymeth picked it for me to read for our mini challenge this year and the more I hear about it the more excited I am to read it!

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing so many great things about John Green. Can you believe I haven't read one of his books yet? I know. Shame on me.

mariel said...

Oh I'm so glad you loved it, though it would be hard not too! And you are so right about boarding schools! Another John Green fan recruited I think?! Great review, thanks.

Serena said...

great review...this sounds better and better the more reviews I read.

Michelle said...

Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I love your review! And I love the book! There are so many great quotations from that novel.

valentina said...

hihi thank u so much Debi:) I'd definitely read it again one day...

Melody, I think you should:P

Nymeth, it's true, I haven't thought about Hogwarts, but as you said it's different. Culver Creek sounds like a place I could have been for real!

Rhinoa, I hope you enjoy it! I think I'm going to recommend it a lot to other people as well:)

J. Kaye, it's never too late, I thought I was the last one to read it in the blogosphere! Now I have HIGH expectations for his other books! I think it's a must read for everybody, but especially YA lovers.

mariel, yes, I think you can count me recruited:)

Serena and Michelle, I don't think I have even managed to mention all the thinks I liked about it. It's just a great book.

seriously read, it's true. I'd probably read it again only to write down all those :D

Jill said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one - and even despite all the buildup and hype, which can sometimes lead to disappointment.

And hmmm...what do you suppose Nymeth means by Hogwarts not being a realistic example of a boarding school. Is she trying to shatter my illusions or something? I'm clearly too old to attend there now, but I'm hoping to get a librarian job there someday...

Anonymous said...

*whispering* I still haven't read it yet, but I promise I will soon. I love your review!

How's the short stories coming along? I just started The Book of the Unknown by Jonathon Keats. It's one of the best short story collections I've ever read.

valentina said...

Darla,it's true, I've been disappointed more than once by all the hype on a book, but I somehow knew this one wouldn't.

Hihi, I'd love to be a librarian in Hogwarts too! but I'm sure you'd have more chances than me what with your experience and all :P

Vasilly, short stories are coming along a bit slow to be honest. I don't expect to finish my collection but I'm satisfied anyway because I've read a new author to me and I'm slowly overcoming my prejudice against short stories:)

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Where's the queue for people who want to tell valentina to read "an abundance of katherines"?


I really enjoy your blog, valentina.