Saturday, November 5, 2011

Reviewing John Green's Debut Novel While Readers Await His Newest Book

"I go to seek the Great Perhaps." Last words by French writer, doctor, and philosopher Francois Rabelais, and the driving force for teenager Miles Halter.

John Green's 2005 debut novel Looking for Alaska follows Miles into bordering school at Culver Creek, where he merely expected to study, sleep, and occasionally seek adventure - "the Great Perhaps." But instead Miles finds his first group of friends, his first opportunity to get in trouble, and his first chance to trust other people.

Structure: 5 out of 5 stars

Green sets up his book perfectly. There are no chapters, but the novel is split into "Before" and "After." Each section of text is labeled something like "eighty-nine days before" in the first half or "one-hundred and three days after" in the second half. The reader spends the first part of the novel trying to guess what the event will be. This is x number of days before what? Is it about a class? A girl? A loved one? A natural disaster? Sex?

Once the event occurs - something that could easily have been the climax and end to any book - Green continues to hold the reader for another 180 pages as the characters unfold the why now that they know the what. As a reader I was intrigued, shocked, and entirely satisfied.

Characters: 4 out of 5 stars

The protagonist, Miles, meets his roommate, the Colonel, and the "hottest girl he's ever seen," Alaska. The trio become quick friends. Green creates three entirely unique personalities, who all hold distinctive qualities - Miles and his obsession with famous last words, Alaska and her poetry, the Colonel and his almanac - but share the same passion and fervor for life.

The trio encounters all sorts of allies and enemies, and I would have liked to get to know some of them better. Green only touches on Lara and Takumi and the Weekday Warrior, Kevin, and leaves the reader wondering a bit about those stories, too. Because the author delves so deeply into the three main characters, I recognize there wasn't a lot of time to do more than skim the surface with anyone else. Maybe a future book will quench the reader's curiosity.

Voice: 4 out of 5 stars

Miles starts his time at Culver Creek as a quiet, nerdy boy who claims he couldn't care less about most things. Even after meeting his companions, getting pranked on his first night on campus, and settling into school, Miles doesn't seem to transform. But suddenly the growth begins. Miles changes his perspective. He lets go of fears he didn't realize he had. He takes risks. He gets hurt. He feels the adrenaline, the marrow of life. My only wish is that the reader could have occasionally heard what was going on in the Colonel's head, or Alaska's. Or maybe Green's book is stronger while the reader just speculates on in the inner workings of their minds.

Overall, I adored this book from cover to cover. The before and the after. While readers wait patiently for Green's newest novel, The Fault In Our Stars - to be released in March or April 2012 - Green fans anticipate another great set of characters and original voice by protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster (the author's first girl narrator).

Watch Green read the first chapter of The Fault In Our Stars here.

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