This is actually the first published novel John Green wrote. It’s the second one I read by him, after being utterly dazzled and reduced to a weeping heap on the floor by this one.
The premise, from Goodreads:
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.
So this is a YA romance/coming of age, told from a boy’s point of view. It’s classic John Green: nerdy boy falls for seemingly unattainable girl, shenanigans ensue with a rag-tag group of quirky friends, and … but no spoilers.
This book is broken up into two parts: “before” and “after”. If you do enough googling, you’ll be able to figure out why, but I really urge you not to. This is a good book, and what happened came as a total surprise to me. I think it’s a better experience that way.
The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party. To say that I had low expectations would be to underestimate the matter dramatically. Although I was more or less forced to invite all my “school friends”, i.e. the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria of my public school, I knew they wouldn’t come. Still, my mother persevered, awash in the delusion that I had kept my popularity a secret from her all these years. She cooked a small mountain of artichoke dip. She festooned our living room in green and yellow streamers, the colors of my new school. She bought two dozen champagne poppers and placed them around the edge of our coffee table.
And when that final Friday came, when my packing was mostly done, she sat with my dad and me on the living-room couch at 4:56 P.M. and patiently awaited the arrival of the Good-bye to Miles Cavalry. Said cavalry consisted of exactly two people: Marie Lawson, a tiny blonde with rectangular glasses, and her chunky (to put it charitably) boyfriend, Will.
So I was sucked in right away. I have a soft spot for the high school losers with few friends. (Perhaps because I was one at one point.) Also, John Green just nails the voice. (Not for the first time.)
There are also the characters. Miles is awesome because he’s so earnest and insecure, especially compared with his larger-than-life companions:
The Colonel ran ahead of me, gleeful at his ejection, and I jogged after him, trailing in his wake. I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.
But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane.
And Alaska is not just the typical beautiful girl. She likes books, for one:
Every summer since I was little, I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there is so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I’ll have more time for reading when I’m old and boring.
(Side note: here’s to being old and boring and having time to read!)
She’s also insightful:
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”
I gave this book an 9/10. Why the demotion? I get kind of annoyed with the formulaic nerdy-boy-wants-gorgeous-girl, even though this book is not really formulaic at all. But overall it bugs me that the nerdy guy doesn’t just end up with the nerdy girl. We exist too!
Just read this book. I don’t want to spoil any more for you.
Oh, except the last line. The last line is just wonderful:
Thomas Edison’s last words were: “It’s very beautiful over there.” I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.