Saturday, November 29, 2008

John Green, Looking for Alaska, 2005.

So. Because I like Jonathan Coulton, I discovered Molly’s ukulele playing on YouTube (her screen name is sweetafton23). So I subscribed to Molly, and a little while ago, watched her video of playing a nerdfighter’s show at the Seattle Public Library. This video, in turn, allowed me to discover the charming John & Hank Green and their Brotherhood 2.0 project. (It also helped me to discover the marvellous song stylings of Ms. Julia Nunes, whose music is stuck in my head of late.) Having discovered John & Hank, I thought I’d give John’s writing a try.

I read Looking for Alaska first, which is a well wrought novel. It’s the story of a young man named Miles Halter, who goes off to boarding school seeking the “Great Perhaps” and who makes friends with other amiable eccentricities (Miles' own eccentricity is a remarkable knowledge of people’s last words). It’s very clearly a bildungsroman, with some of the shortcomings of that particular literary genre—specifically, a fair bit of exposition by a religious knowledge teacher at the school which introduces some concepts of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam (perhaps hardly surprising given Green’s double major in English and Religion). While these expository bits drag a bit, it’s less notable than similar chunks in most bildungsromans that I’ve read. They’re well integrated with the plot, and do add to it, but they’re a big part of why I see this novel as more of a YA title than something more literary. The plot itself revolves around a tragedy at the school: the book’s two sections are entitled “Before” and “After.”

I’m glad I picked it up and read it. It’s clever, funny, and eminently enjoyable—and I can see why it appeals strongly, both to the nerdfighter community and beyond.