Generous rating, Harsh review. Not any spoiler until the last part of my review.
What i would write on the back of the book if i was given the opportunity : "Miles goes to boarding school where he makes friends for the first time of his life and fells in love. The story is quite uneventful then something big happens, and the group of friends tries to figure out stuff about the event."
Maybe my review will upset some of the readers, but i really struggled to read this book after the first 1/3 and i literally crawled my way through the last 1/3. So bear with me.
Now, i am not one to bash on a book easily but i had such greats expectations about this book that it was hard to discover that it was not worth the hype and hard to not feel considerably disappointed. Of course, I like John green for his ability to write "quotable material" as i like to call it. Whatever you read of him (or watch even) you can always pick a single sentence out and repeat it like a mantra with an awfully deep meaning ("Y'all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die"). So when i stumbled upon various quotes from his book, i liked the mysterious deep aura that accompanied it and i was exited to read it.
As i started the book, it seemed funny so i didn't compare it to TFIOS but more to An abundance of Katherines (that i both previously have read). But as i got into the (unfortunately predictable) plot, i decided to not consider it as a light hearted romance (Katherine) but more as a wannabe tragic first love story (TFIOS). As many people, i felt that it wasn't as good as TFIOS (i didn't find TFIOS mind blowing but i least i had enjoyed it).
What makes it not enjoyable is not the fact that there is strong language or mentions of sexual activity (let's be real here : they are "normal" teenagers, i wouldn't have expected anything else), but the self centered attitude of the main characters (Miles and Alaska particularly), their egoism and pretentiousness. It was not agreeable to read about a crazy girl and an egocentric boy. I have the feeling that it was meant to be deep (and relate-able for young readers) but only came out as condescending.
One of the character that i didn't quite catch was Alaska. Everyone in the book seemed to hold her in high esteem, even some of the professors and i can see all the teenagers relating to her in her strength and her "insubordination to authority figures" but from my adult point of view, it felt silly, egocentric and over rated. She was determined and i liked that but she was definitely not likeable as in cute and awkward, she was mad and weird, as Miles even calls her (when he stops for a second having his blinding crush on her) "an awful selfless bitch".
I was myself from the "smart outcast" group in high school but i didn't really connected with Miles because of his perpetual path of thoughts going inwards AND redundant. All that mattered to him was himself especially after the event(and even if i recognize the lack of distance and relativity in a teenager perspective, it felt too much) and as a reader, i started to disconnect from ALL of his emotions, and found myself not caring anymore about him and so about the story itself.
To go on about Alaska and Miles : Alaska is supposed to steal Miles' heart (this is not a spoiler, it's said in the description of the book) but all i really saw was physical attraction and a bit of curiosity for her "mysteriousness". Not this unconditional transcendent love he makes up to be and especially not a life-changing love.
Another thing i didn't connect at all with in this book : all the pranks. I was never once in my life appealed by pranks and i skipped through the last prank that was played (even though it hold a meaning towards Alaska) because i just wanted to be done with the book by then.
Now I didn't like the book, as you can tell, but i have to admit that the ending was pretty good. I've put good books in my "non-good books" list because of a disastrous ending, or even because of an ending that didn't quite reach my exceptions but Looking for Alaska had, truth be told, a good ending. It felt as if it wasn't Miles anymore who was narrating but John talking to us, explaining his book, concluding in a couple of paragraphs, and i did connect with that. I let go of my anger for the main characters and let the bit of wisdom of the book sink in me.
I also really liked the character of the old teacher. Very sharp, hateful but also intelligent and caring in he's own way, those type of teachers are a blessing. I liked every single line about/from him.My rating : 2,5 stars out of 5.
I didn't like this book so why didn't i give it only one star? Because i feel that i didn't like it mostly because i had crazy high expectations out of the hype that went along with this book, mostly on tumblr but on goodreads itself. So it feels unfair to give it only one harsh star.
Also i give credit to John green for making realistic and unique characters. That is something that i can not praise enough. And the story is well developed (even though some parts felt longer than necessary -yes i skipped some), with well constructed characters (even though I did not relate to them in the slightest way).
Plus, I did not forget that it was his debut novel, and i have to congratulate him on that since i see it as the first step in his path that led to TFIOS which was a good book.
My rating shows 3 stars out of 5 because as i said, the ending made up for all the bad parts in the book so i decided to go with more than 2.Final thoughts
: i realize that this is a book destined to YA as i am myself one but i still thinks that some of the books in this genre are more aimed to teenagers than to actual young adults. As c s Lewis said “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
and i feel the same for this YA genre, including so Looking for Alaska. Yes, maybe i would have ADORED it when i was in High school or even before, but if i can't praise a book after the puberty turmoil is long gone, then maybe it was not such a good book to begin with.**SPOILER, DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK**
I wouldn't dare to give it much than 2,5 stars because somewhere, into all this uniqueness, it still felt cliché and predictable to see Alaska dying. Also i already had disconnected a long chunk ago in the book so when the scene took place i felt myself thinking "here we go, big event's here, alright what's next then?"
. If i cared a little i would have winced but really, nothing happened, too much predictable. I mean, it couldn't just end well right? She had to die, and we (readers) had to see Miles going through grieving. John green here were forcing feelings onto us but i'm sorry to announce that a good ol' death in a not-so-good book doesn't bring suddenly a flow of feelings to the reader. I feel like John Green somehow realized it when he wrote "it felt pure" (Miles talking about Alaska's death), as maybe... the pouring rain washing the pain out of a broken heart while simultaneously empowering the sadness could feel. This was what Alaska's death was : the display of a pure rush of sadness and emotions, waiting to be idolized.
Really the plot itself wasn't that bad, and maybe if Alaska was more evidently mentally unstable, i would have pitied her a bit, and felt heart broken over her death (as much as one can be over an fictional character), but here, her death led by an hysterical crisis just felt dumb and pathetic. I wished that John green had made her either clearly sick or have the mystery around her death a bit more consistent.
Because in the end, what we're left with is a young girl, drunk but not unconscious of her doing (it's said that she can hold alcohol better than the others), crashing her car in a non-suicidal but non-accidental way for a really questionable reason, resulting in her death. And even Takumi's letters didn't contain brand new information to me.
I think that she should have realized that she was spending a good time with her friends - this is what made her forgot about her mom funeral- and it was NOT a bad thing to forget about her mother. Her mother would have been happy to see her daughter moving one with life and not beating herself up over something that happened so long ago. At this moment, Alaska was being reconciled with happiness and in her stubbornness she didn't want to admit it, she didn't want to be normal/simple/happy so she took irresponsible and drastic measures to reach her dead mother. It was immature of her and she probably realized it six miles away from the campus (right where she crashed herself). She definitely didn't die smart as she said she would.