I pretend to write novels. It is something that has been in the back of my mind for most of my life, an annoying little bug just whispering that one day, I might actually put something together that is worthwhile. A book that will find itself among bookshelves around the country, beating out the 22 some odd million other books that are published every year. Let’s just say, as of now, I haven’t done it.
When I turned 20 I made a bet with myself, that I would write a book that lives up to my standards by the time I was 27. Why 27 you ask? Simple, I read one of my all-time favorite books around that time, a little story known as Looking For Alaska. This award-winning Young Adult romance story was penned by John Green, the guy who wrote Fault In Out Stars and was blamed for using cancer as a gimmick.
Which is honestly, fair.
Anyways so Green’s first novel Looking For Alaska was published in 2005 when he was, you guessed it, 27 years old. Now one could argue it isn’t the best to compare one’s workflow to others, better yet, a very well-established professional author. And to that, I say, fuck you.
So over the weekend, I decided to sit down with my very worn copy of Looking For Alaska, reading it all on a sleepy Sunday, and it really does hold up. For any of you Hulu hawks out there I want to mention the mini-series that follows the book and is quite good as well, but I digress. Looking For Alaska follows Miles Halter, a name that is quickly forgotten because he is adorned with the nickname ‘Pudge’ very early on in the story. So Pudge is in search of something else in life. Hailing from Florida he finds himself droning through school life doing much of nothing, not having friends, and generally not caring.
Pondering on the words of Francois Rabelais Pudge finds himself in search of his own ‘Great Perhaps’ and decides the only way to find it is to follow in his father’s footsteps and go to a private boarding school in Alabama known as Culver Creek. Packing up his bags and crossing the border, Pudge finds himself in the hot muggy Alabama fall air, his dorm, old and worn, without AC brings no relief as he meets his roommate, five-foot Chip Martin. Giving Miles the nickname Pudge he quickly informs him that he is to go by The Colonel before giving him the rundown of how Culver Creek runs and what sides Pudge might be finding himself on.
This book is a rather complex look into coming-of-age young adult hood. Getting thrown in headfirst Pudge finds himself in the middle of pranks, skipping class to smoke, and completely at the will of free-spirited, vibrant, brilliant Alaska Young, a girl to who the Colonel introduces him, in that moment, she stole his heart.
Though I do have to mention, this isn’t quite the bubbly romance it was when it came out in 2005, there is one, very specific part of this novel that in my opinion, did not age well at all. (Actually two, sorta, I really hate how Green capitalizes God, something about the line ‘God she is hot’ really makes me cringe) The B-word. So in 2021, there are a few terms that have changed relevance, bitch being one of them. Sure one could tell someone to stop bitching if they are complaining or describe how someone bitched out during an argument. But when it comes to calling a woman a bitch, well, that is frowned upon, and that is something the duo of Colonel and Pudge call Alaska MANY times, even after the accident that would take her life.
But overlooking such things I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book years after I read it the first time. Granted I will always say my favorite Green book is his wonders of Paper Towns but Looking For Alaska is amazing in its own way. It is hilarious, witty, smart, and full of (oddly to my satisfaction) the last words of many famous people. Yeah, I don’t know, that is Pudge’s whole bit, he knows people’s last words before they die.
The book shifts away from the romance element halfway through, a moment that is painted as “After” which breaks the book up into two parts. After covers the story after the death of Alaska, and tells the story of Pudge and the Colonel trying to make sense of losing one of their dearest friends, struggling with their own mortality even at the young age they are. This is helped by the addition of religion and the thoughts of the afterlife, perfectly coupled with touching last words from the ones like Eddison “It is very beautiful over there”
No one knows where there is, but all of us dream to some level, to hope it is as beautiful as he said.
Granted he was on his deathbed and likely delusional but we are going to ignore that.
Looking For Alaska, on a final note is a young adult book written by a young man for younger men. Given in context to 2005, leading some of the terms and how they interact with others is not ideal, but for me, overlook able. What lies beyond that is truly a masterfully told tale that really expresses Green’s ability to tell stories, something he has shown time and time again with his later works. I based my writing goal off the foot of John Green, and honestly, I’d be blessed to craft a story a quarter as good as his.
As always thanks for the read