In Looking for Alaska, John Green’s first novel, Green proves that he knows what it was like to be a teenager. He understands the things that young people long for. For Miles Halter, the protagonist of Looking for Alaska, he is “look(ing) for the Great Perhaps,” inspired by Francois Rabelais’ last words. (Miles has an obsession with last words of famous people.) To find his Great Perhaps, he goes to a boarding school, mainly because many of the famous people he has read about have attended boarding schools. There, he meets an interesting cast of characters whom he befriends. There is Takumi, Lara and, very prominently, his roommate Chip (“the Colonel”), who has a brilliant mind and a short temper befitting his short stature. Then there is, of course, Alaska Young.
Alaska is beautiful, intelligent and quick-witted. She is overbearing and larger than life. We get the sense that she is being idealized through the eyes of the very male Miles, and who can blame him? She is the perfectly imagined manic pixie girl that can’t help but to have a profound effect on all the people around her.
Alaska is clearly meant to hold center stage in this book, and this may be both its greatest strength and weakness. Alaska can be described as many things, many of them negative, including moody, coy and promiscuous. It’s entirely possible you may not like Alaska if you observed her from the outside. We do not get much of Alaska’s inner life except in hints. However, that may not matter because the book is really about Miles’ perception of Alaska rather than Alaska herself. Minor spoiler, the book does rely as much on her absence as it does on her presence, so perhaps Alaska does not have to be a fully-realized character.
Alaska was Green’s first novel and his strengths are apparent even from the beginning. His characters are all hyper-intelligent and self-aware. The ones who aren't don’t get many words. He has a knack for zippy dialogue laced with sarcasm. He also is not afraid to dive into emotion, but he manages not to get overly sentimental. Most importantly, verbal fireworks aside, Green has managed to create in Miles a protagonist with one burning desire - to live a brave, adventurous life instead of sinking into apathy and complacency.