I never would never have guessed that Looking for Alaska was John Green's first novel; its also my first novel by John Green, but it won't be my last. I definitely get the book-blogger love for this author now!
Miles Halter - a tall, skinny high-school junior soon to be better known as Pudge - is reasonably happy to transfer to the Alabama boarding school his dad attended, since he doesn't feel like he's leaving much behind in central Florida. The classes at Culver Creek make him work harder than he's used to, but he's surprisingly fascinated by his World Religions class and its ancient teacher, Dr. Hyde. Even more fascinating are the new friends he's making; he's not exactly a big hit socially, but he becomes part of a small group that includes two of the schoo'ls underground leaders, his roommate Chip "the Colonel" Martin and dorm neighbor Alaska Young. Miles has never known anyone like this appealing girl, with beauty, brains, an unpredictably moody nature, a roomful of books, a fake ID that yields contraband cigarettes and alcohol...and a college boyfriend that puts her out of reach as anything more than a friend, but he'll take it.
This novel defied my expectations in a few respects. I really thought I'd be annoyed by Alaska - I thought she'd be the sort of magnetically, influentially quirky girl that men seem to write about more than women do, as she hovers on the edge of fantasy - but I wasn't. The novel hinges on her, and she really needs to draw the reader as much as she does Miles; Green made that happen, at least for me. As it happens, I found all of the main characters vivid and appealing, and I really enjoyed their story. As I said, it wasn't all pranks and hijinks; while theres no shortage of humor in the storytelling, some themes are treated quite seriously. School itself is one of them, and Miles - who narrates the novel in first person - mentions studying quite often.
Looking for Alaska is an intelligent novel that rings emotionally true; it's a fun read, but not a shallow one. There's a noticeable and entirely appropriate shift in tone in the latter third of the story, and it enhances the story's effect. I wasn't sure how much I'd like this book; I liked it a lot, and will definitely be reading more of John Green's fiction.