It has been a very long time since I have given a book only one star, and there has only ever been one book that has so disappointed me as to merit so little recognition. For the curious, that book was a nonfiction title, Jerry Ellis’ Walking the Trail, which angered me with its self-serving narcissism. I even try very hard to avoid the stigma of a two star rating. But Looking for Alaska sits squarely in one star territory for me, no doubt about it.
If this book were marketed as an adult novel we would be having a completely different discussion, but the fact of the matter is that the book is marketed to young adults. Honestly, that is the only reason I read it-there was controversy surrounding it, so I read the book, in the event that my eldest, a sixteen-year-old boy, wanted to read it.
Rarely have I read an adult novel comprised of as much sex, language, smoking, drinking, and general shenanigans as this novel. Every relationship in the book is built around those things. I have read reviews which applaud the author for his ability to meet youth where they are at. Yes, the characters discuss issues that adolescents discuss, but never without the crutch of substance abuse. I do not find that at all admirable on the author’s part; I find it enabling.
****MAJOR SPOILER ALERT****
Finally, the one thing which I found absolutely unbelievable! After all the guilt that Miles and The Colonel feel for not only letting Alaska drive extremely drunk, but actually causing a diversion for her to get off campus, they decide to investigate her accident. What conclusion does John Green allow his characters to draw? That she might have committed suicide! I was very angered that the author allowed his characters to sidestep their responsibility in this way. The Colonel was himself very drunk, but Miles was stone sober when he allowed his friend to get behind the wheel of her car and when he himself caused a diversion to get her off campus; he might as well have put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. I realize that the characters are sixteen and seventeen year-old kids, but if you are writing a novel that you hope will teach youth a lesson, this kind of wishy-washy ending is pathetic.
****END OF SPOILER ALERT****
In the end I wish that Green had stuck to where I thought the novel was going in the first place. I could forgive a lot of the graphic debauchery, and even weigh the merits of exposing my kids to it for the benefit of the lesson taught, if in the end the characters had gotten their just desserts and learned the lesson that they so desperately needed to learn. Unfortunately, Green chose his own path-perhaps he felt it made for a better storyline? Less predictable? Whatever his reasons for giving the novel the ending he chose, it is the reason that the book went from a possible two or three stars from me crashing down to one lonely little star.
Parents will definitely want to read this one before putting it in your teen’s hands. I readily admit to being pretty cautious about what my kids read, but I do not think I am over-reacting on this one.