Poet Francois Rabelais’ last words were, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. Rabelais’ idea of a “Great Perhaps” forms an important theme in John Green’s debut novel, ‘Looking for Alaska’, a simple, splendid coming-of-age tale. In the beginning of the book, 16-year-old Miles Halter, a geek with zero social life and an obsession with last words of famous people, decides to leave behind his colorless life in Florida for Greater Maybes; he decides to go to Culver Creek, an elite boarding school in Alabama. At Culver Creek, he befriends an eclectic group of mischief-makers— Chip “Colonel” Martin, a scholarship student who is bright, boisterous and also Pudge’s (Pudge is Halter’s new nickname) roommate; Takumi, a witty Japanese with a penchant for rapping; Lara, a gorgeous, soft-spoken Romanian; and most importantly, Alaska— a sassy, sexy, dynamic girl who is given to moodiness and crying jags but is also full of spirit and energy, who with her razor-sharp wit and devil-may-care attitude, is the quintessence of Pudge’s “Great Perhaps”. Unsurprisingly, he falls in love with her. The days roll on, and life at Culver Creek is colored with all shades of exhilaration— smoking cigarettes on campus, swigging cheap bottles of wine in dorm rooms, driving around town, playing elaborate pranks on each other, etc. Slowly, Pudge learns little details about the maddening and fascinating Alaska— about how her mother’s death was a pivotal moment in her life, about how she blames herself for it, about how she is a deeply unhappy person, and how she wants to find her way out of the “labyrinth of suffering”. On one fatal night, Alaska meets her end in a car-crash. And now, Pudge must, while dealing with grief and anger, try to answer the question, “Was it an accident or did Alaska choose the “straight and fast” way out of the labyrinth?”
‘Looking for Alaska’, a spectacular coming-of-age tale, is John Green’s debut novel. When it was first published in 2005, it broke into the New York Times best-seller list at number 10, and won the Michael L Printz Award in 2006. It also won him millions of die-hard fans!
‘Looking for Alaska” is a short read— just 88-pages long. In a short space, Green has presented a most haunting, compelling tale. The book is divided into two parts: Before and After. The chapters of the first part, ‘Before’, are a countdown to the “fatal incident”, so it is titled “one hundred and thirty-six days before”, “one hundred twenty-seven days before” and so on, while the chapters of the second part, ‘After’, are titled “Fourteen days after”, “Twenty days after” and so on. Green’s style is simple, direct, yet profound.
‘Looking for Alaska’ is a beautiful, beautiful read. Brimming with philosophical contemplations, weighty issues, and a bewitching story-line, ‘Looking for Alaska’ forces its readers to think— really think— about what the meaning of life is. Sometime ago, in a random conversation, a friend dropped a quote from this book to illustrate her point, and I promptly fell in love with it. Straight away, I bought this book and read it and loved it. I suggest you do the same!
Book Reviewed by Manjushree Hegde
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