Looking for Alaska by John Green
In this book, the narrator goes to a boarding school and joins a group of rebels led by a girl named Alaska, a free spirit who smokes and drinks a lot, between pulling pranks on the snobby students and administrators. Our protagonist falls in love with her of course. There’s a tragic twist in the middle of the book that leads to the quest for answers alluded to in the title.
Of the three John Green books I’ve read now, I like Looking for Alaska least. Alaska is a blatant Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and the trope is less examined here than in the other two books. She’s quirky, damaged, and self-destructive, creative, flirty, and of course, gorgeous. The book is about the narrator’s growth and his experience loving and losing Alaska, not about Alaska’s choices and her journey. He objectifies her and makes her into his Dulcinea. His friend says to him at one point, “It’s like now you only care about the Alaska you made up.” On the bright side, by the end of the book he realizes how his conception of Alaska was flawed. In this way the book does deconstruct the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope to some extent, but not as radically as in Paper Towns. Alaska’s fragility and volatility make her a much more problematic character than the stronger, more self-determined Margo Roth Speigelman.
However, despite these issues, it’s a fun book to read. Green is great at capturing the voices of teen characters, especially smart, verbose ones. I like that he doesn’t shy away from portraying realistic teen sex or from tackling big, hard topics.