John Green and his brother Hank make youtube videos, which is how I found them and learned that John wrote books and that they had created this wonderful, weird community of people called Nerdfighters, who battle against world suck. John and Hank are charming, lovable goofballs, and I honestly fell in love with them and their antics in the videos before I ever read a word of John Green’s writing.
Then I picked up Paper Towns, and I’m not sure what I expected. It was sweet and funny and full of real world mystery and adventure and fun, the kind you can only have when you’re sixteen and not fully tied down to all the things you should do yet. It’s a wonderful book.
So, of course, I had to read more of John Green’s work.
In Looking for Alaska, Miles, aka “Pudge,” decides to leave the ease and safety of his home and current high school to head off to a prestigious boarding school instead. Pudge is looking for what poet François Rabelais called “the Great Perhaps,” for adventure, for a life fully lived. At Culver Creek Boarding School life for Pudge is certainly less safe and far more chaotic, especially after he meets Alaska Young, who is sexy, smart, crazy, mysterious and definitely trouble. He makes other friends, too, but his center of focus pivots around Alaska, who drags him into the chaos of her world and he soon finds that after meeting Alaska, things will never be the same.
Don’t think that this is the perfect set up for a romance, however, for while love is certainly present, it’s mostly one sided, and things don’t work out to according to the neat fantasies the boy’s dream up. Life is too complex; it’s too messy.
I would like to point out here that Looking for Alaska has one of the greatest passages I’ve ever read. It’s widely quoted among Nerdighters, and I have to share it, too.
“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. 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 hurricane.”
Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s one of those quotes that will stick in my mind, that I will savor and remember the taste of, because it’s just that good. And really, the book is that good, too, with a character who’s all mixed up and a story that is funny and full of longing and loss and redemption. (You’ll notice that writing about John Green’s writing makes me want to use a lot of “and”s, because it’s so rich and multi-layered.) Looking for Alaska is a deeply moving book, and I loved it even more than I loved Paper Towns.
As a side note: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns are very similar. Both have slightly geeky, awkward young men as their main characters, who fall hard for their beautiful schoolmate, almost to the point of obsession. Both women are highly opinionated, clever, mysterious, dangerous, sexy, and have a flair for the ultimate prank.Both stories center around the deep mystery of a person. But despite their similarities, both novels are unique, set in different worlds with a unique cast of interesting characters. Both are worth reading.