Looking for Alaska:
I picked this one up because I felt I had to jump on the John Green, The Fault In Our Stars bandwagon. The movie was coming out, and his work was EVERYWHERE. Even if I didn’t like his stuff, it was enough of a cultural phenomenon that I had to have an opinion. I knew I couldn’t handle a kids with cancer, dying sort of novel so I looked at what else he had written. Looking for Alaska was a NY Times Best Seller.
I really loved the way he organized this novel. Most of his books are the linear chapter 1, 2, 3… you expect but this one isn’t. This one is broken up into “before” and “after,” but you have no idea what the event in the middle is until it happens. I had a growing realization of the doom of it as I read the novel and I hoped I was wrong. I wasn’t.
Pudge and the Colonel are hilarious with their dilapidated couch, and their milk & vodka antics. Alaska is a spitfire of a girl who feels so real that she’s easy to fall in love with despite the crazy that’s lurking inside. Pudge has his last words and his Great Perhaps. She has her Labyrinth. The pranks they pull are genius. Especially the last one, the one Alaska masterminded. The novel walks this line between tragedy and comedy, with plenty of embarrassment thrown in. It feels like a cooler, more expansive version of my own high school life. My only criticism is that Green uses the high school, class-mimics-life trope that is so overused in high school stories. But if it has to be used, this is the way to do it.
I read a lot, and what I am reading for is to find those novels that take up head space and linger. They are rare. If I don’t find it in 80% of the books I read, I am at least guaranteed some entertainment along the way. Looking for Alaska is one of the lingering kind. I read it on kindle, but I purchased the nice hard back. It’s a keeper.
An Abundance of Katherines:
This novel wounded me, and I’m not really sure why. It’s lighthearted. It features the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a pig hunt, a grand theorem of dumping, a cave lair, and plenty of other silliness. I don’t know how John Greene gets women so right, but his girls are all some of the few women written by men who feel real. Lindsay Lee Wells is the sort of girl I wish I was: bold with no nonsense and sweet all at the same time. Colin’s assertion that his prodigy status doesn’t automatically make him a genius (or even successful) felt so true. Hassan’s Arabic insults make me smile.
I was wounded, I think, because the novel is about the things we give up because our families have expectations of us. It seems easier to not do, or conform, than to decide and leave. It’s about the burdens of a good upbringing amongst a supportive family and how that can shape someone, too. Lindsay Lee Wells’ life is not like my life, but I recognized her problems as old frenemies. It’s about other things too, of course, and some are probably more evident to others than my own take away. Like the quest of us all to be original and the ways history changes through the generations. But that was the one that stuck in my heart and kept me pondering.
This was another book that was a thinker. I’m a convert to the John Greene church of nerdfighting (or whatever). I bought this one twice, too.
The Fault in Our Stars:
Perhaps, you think, I should have seen it coming? I did not. I thought, ‘John Greene, amazing writer, in a lauded book I’ve seen on the internet everywhere. I never cry at books. After the other two, I think I’m ready.” I also made the mistake of reading it on my lunch hour. I have not cried over a book since I was 12 and John Brooke died in Little Men. I ugly cried on my lunch hour over TFIOS. I’m 32. It didn’t help that tall, quippy, Augustus Waters reminded me a little of Brian.
Maybe I wouldn’t like to be Hazel Grace with pips in her lungs and an oxygen tank, but I would like to have that smart brain of hers. She is another force of nature like the rest of John Green’s girls. Her parents are great people. Augustus’s search to make a mark on the world that was permanent is something everyone I know has experienced. Isaac’s blindness is sad. All of their stories are sad, but they are so smart and so funny in the midst of all this tragedy. It is gallows humor, but it is the funniest gallows humor I have ever read.
I could say things about Amsterdam. Or about universes needing observation, tasting the stars, video games and inspirational needlepoint, or the literal heart of God. But I realize that I can’t even put this book into words. It’s something that must be experienced. It defies summary.
This one wasn’t a thinker. It was a life changer. Those are the rarest kind of books of all.
When I originally read Paper Towns, I felt like it was the worst of all John Green’s books (That sounds more terrible than I mean it to sound. It’s still far, FAR superior to most things I come across. ‘Worst’ is in relation to the rest of John Green, not to the rest of literature). I will still assert that Looking for Alaska was a better finding someone novel and An Abundance of Katherines was a better road trip novel. I did like his thesis that some people are windows and some people are mirrors, and you never know if you’re looking in a mirror or a window when you see someone. I feel more mirror than window most days.
The book is beautiful, too; all these abandoned settlements, tract houses, and malls. Visiting them was fun. Learning about paper towns was so interesting. There is a dog named Myrna Mountweasel. I realized after a few days that I do find myself thinking about this one. After I had written it off as not his best, I found myself pondering the abandoned mall, and the place they find Margot, among other things. I’m sure if I had read this one first it would have been another favorite. I still recommend it, but after TFIOS it was anti-climactic. Perhaps that is the real reason I didn’t fall head over heels with it.