Looking for Alaska
by John Green
While this book wasn't to my taste, I do believe it has quality and literary merit. The writing quality was strong, including the occasional sentence that made me pause to appreciate the words. The characters were well developed, the countdown kept the reader intrigued and pushing through to see what happened on The Day, and the overall plot was poignant and meaningful.
I wasn't particularly fond of the first half of this book. Reading about how these teens were living their lives, or rather, wasting them, bothered me. Yes, they were bonding, and perhaps they were acting as many teens do (I couldn't relate myself, but maybe that's true for others), but it felt so wasteful. And the adult in me, though only a decade or so removed from high school, did think that the smoking, drinking, etc., was inappropriate. That being said, I'm well aware that none of this material would shock the majority of today's teens, let alone influence their behavior.
After finishing the book and ruminating on the plot, I think it may have been intentional on John Green's part to make the Before section aimless - it made the second half and the teens' search for meaning that much more powerful. I think Pudge's statement at the end of the book, in his final paper, really sums up the first and second parts of the book:
"When adults say, 'Teenagers think they are invincible' with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are...They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail."
**Spoiler Alert - quit reading here if you don't want vague references to what happens in this story!**
The first half of the story, our main characters live like they're invincible, but in the end they get a taste of their own mortality. And for any teenager who has dealt with the loss of one of their friends or acquaintances, this book could potentially help them. So despite my personal feelings about this book, I think Alaska deserves to have a place in any teen's library.