The Coincidental Critic

Exploring the art of storytelling.

Looking for Alaska and for Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Questions (SPOILERS)


The Writing

I would argue that Looking for Alaska is Josh Green’s best work (out of what I’ve read so far).  His writing is absolutely beautiful and filled with imagery.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from Looking for Alaska:

“You wake up one morning and God has forgiven you and you walk around squinting all day because you’ve forgotten how sunlight feels warm and rough against your skin like a kiss on the cheek from your dad…”

“…if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

“I sat in the back of the hatchback on the drive home…and fell asleep to the highway’s monotonous lullaby.”

“She lay on her side across two bales of hay, the afternoon light brightening the green in her eyes, her tan skin the last memory of fall.”

Looking for Alaska was told in first person, so we experienced everything through Pudge’s perspective.  Because of that, the only information we received was what Pudge observed and was willing to share.  We could never know what actually happened to Alaska because Pudge didn’t know.  We didn’t know what Colonel or Takumi were thinking in regards to Alaska’s death because Pudge couldn’t get inside their heads.  Eventually, we found out that Takumi had a crush on Alaska just like Pudge.  This could have been a well-known fact, but it wasn’t obvious to Pudge.  He was too concerned about what Alaska thought of him to even think that other people could share his same feelings for her.  Green made the perfect choice in writing Looking for Alaska in first person.  It is the only way the story could have been told in order to get across the message that he wanted to tell.  This was Pudge’s story about his own personal experience.

The characters in Looking for Alaska played a lot of video games.  However, because of Green’s diction, it was sometimes unclear as to whether they were actually playing video games or doing something else.  Here are a few examples:

“I spent the next day in our room playing football on mute…”

“Six days later, four Sundays after the last Sunday, the Colonel and I were trying to shoot each other with paintball guns while turning 900s in a half pipe.”

Green should have made it more clear that they were playing video games and not football or paintball.  I obviously caught on by the next sentence, but it was still a bit misleading.

The Characters

In all of Green’s books I have read, his characters are very similar.  They’re all metaphorical, well-read intellectual teenagers.  Unfortunately, I have difficulty connecting to his characters because of this.  They’re just too extreme for me–almost like caricatures.  I can’t think of a single classmate from high school who was as literarily-inclined as Green’s characters.

The Plot

To soften the blow, Green prepared us for Alaska’s death:

“We left.

We did not say: Don’t drive.  You’re drunk.

We did not say: We aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset.

We did not say: We insist on going with you.

We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow.  Anything–everything–can wait.

These words were clearly a warning, so I knew what was coming.  Knowing this information beforehand funneled our attention to the aftermath of the accident and the grieving process rather than the accident itself.  This was clever of Green.  He not only sheltered his readers from the devastating news, but also guided us in the direction he wanted the story to unfold.

I like how Green kept Alaska’s prank a secret from the readers until the day came.  Pudge was in cahoots, so he obviously knew of the plan, but he didn’t let it slip.  This kept up the suspense leading up to the prank.

Unfortunately, the prank would have been impossible to pull off.  Pudge and the gang lucked out in that the Eagle did not research the speaker they had suggested.  Had the Eagle had any common sense and looked up the professor online, he would have found out that he didn’t exist.  But this is a fictional story, so I guess common sense flew out the window in this circumstance.

In the end, the prank was not as grand as I expected.  There was such a build up to it, but it didn’t live up to the hype.  I wanted something more.  A five minute strip tease just didn’t do it for me, but at least the characters were satisfied, and I guess that’s all that mattered to move the story forward.

My jaw dropped when we found out that Takumi was the last one to see Alaska alive.  He felt just as guilty as Pudge and the Colonel.  I empathized with him because his friends pushed him away.  If only they knew that he was in the same boat as them.  This was another great example of when the first person narration worked perfectly to tell the story.

We never really found out the truth about Alaska’s death, but I’m glad we didn’t.  It was more realistic this way.  This story was about friendship and grief.  And in life, we can never get all the answers and there will always be more questions.  We have to learn to live with the mystery and take advantage of the time that we have.  Thank you, John Green for an excellent read!

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2016 by in Book and tagged , , , , , .
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