A slow-to-the punch, yet extremely gripping debut novel by John Green, Looking for Alaska, is one of those books which continue to affect us long after we have put it down. Separated into two parts - “BEFORE” and “AFTER” - with a twist in the middle, this novel asks and answers some tough, controversial questions.

Before: An unsocial sixteen-year-old, Miles Halter (Pudge) has a strange fascination with the last words of great men. Author François Rabelais' enigmatic last words “I go to seek a Great Perhaps” inspire the sixteen year-old to leave his safe life at home and enroll in Culver Creek, a co-ed boarding school in Alabama. Pudge is the stereotypical odd kid: chicken-leg skinny, undeniably bright, and a bit of an idealist at heart.

He is quickly befriended by a strange group of people - his roommate Chip, romantic Romanian girl Lara, with her strange habit of mispronouncing words with “I” and Takumi, a clever, humorous Japanese boy. They introduce her to Alaska, the beautiful girl who “had eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor.”

Alaska's carefree nature, everlasting smile and sly ways entice Pudge. He delves into a world he never imagined before - running away from classes, sneaking to the lake to grab cigarettes, pulling pranks constantly. Alaska is the embodiment of all things self-destructive and screwed up, but also the epitome of utmost beauty and by always living on the edge she launches Pudge into his long-awaited “Great Perhaps” and steals his heart in the meantime.

After: The purpose behind the slow, rambling and somewhat clichéd “before” section is revealed, as the course of the story is completely shifted and the deeper meanings are addressed. This thought-provoking, and spellbinding last section really makes every bit of this novel extraordinary. The characters spend their days trying to figure out the mystery which overshadowed their lives, and answer questions about the true meaning behind life.

It's surprising to critics that such an engaging, mature, and complex novel was directed towards high-school students, but Green's purpose was to help teenagers grow by introducing them to serious topics in an engaging way. “Looking for Alaska” is a book exploring religion and its applications to our own lives and thoughts. The book centers on Miles's lessons with Dr Hyde, a World Religion teacher who opens Miles's mind to consider the world through the ideals of religion and philosophy. He teaches him to be aware of the present, and listen and talk, rather than over-think the future.

Green was awarded the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in young adult literature) for “Looking for Alaska”, which is deserved by this gorgeously written, passionate and hilarious novel. The stories of these vividly beautifully portrayed characters - bad kids at times and touching at others - help readers deal with self discovery. The audience will be grinning, laughing and crying throughout the book but mainly they will fall in love with Alaska's vanilla-and-cigarettes scent and optimistic ways, and stay enticed till the very last page.

This book delivers a haunting narrative about teenage-hood and the mistakes and successes associated with it. It depicts love in all its many forms, and explores deeper themes such as where our ‘Great Perhaps’ lies. Looking for Alaska is a heart-wrenching, moving story that deserves a place at the top of your reading list


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