Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2006 (Print edition: Speak, 2006)
Narrator: Jeff Woodman
Miles, reader of biographies and memorizer of last words, decides he needs to get out of his Florida high school for something greater, his "great perhaps" (from Rabelais's last words). And so off he goes to boarding school Culver Creek in Alabama, where he experiences a parentless world for the first time. Here he meets Chip, aka The Colonel, his roommate and eventually closest friend, who in turn introduces him to Alaska Young. Gorgeous, snarky, extremely well-read, reckless, intelligent, and completely unattainable, Miles can't help but fall for her.
Through late night conversations, both drunken and sober, it becomes clear that Alaska is unstable and miserable. But she gets through with a smile, a swig of cheap wine and an obscenity thrown in for the hell of it. Miles, Alaska and the Colonel, along with some other friends, smoke, drink and prank their way through their junior year, and getting through classes in the time in between.
But then everything changes.
A story of loss, grief, adventure and growing up, Looking for Alaska has a lot going for it. Told in the completely believable voice of Miles, Green nails teen speak and creates situations that are just priceless. The pranks are ingenius, as are the way Green reveals what the gang is up to. Things aren't explained until they happen, keeping the reader guessing where things are headed. He also uses this tactic with the headings of each chapter, labeled however many days before until the event happens. I was left unsure of what was coming, though I had a couple of theories. It was very effective.
Much like in his most recent novel, Paper Towns, Green does a lot of philosophizing through Miles. Miles does a lot of thinking about religion, not because he follows one, but because of his religion class, tying it into what's happening in his life—yet Green makes it easy to connect with.
All of the characters are fully realized, quirky, and completely human. No one is perfect, but every single one has a heart. Alaska is particularly complex, with a past that is gradually revealed not only to us as readers, but to her friends as well.
Woodman's narration is very good. He puts the right emphasis on words, acting out the dialogue as he goes. His voices for each character are very distinct, making it easy to tell not only them apart but internal narration from dialogue. Unfortunately I found Alaska's voice a bit grating. Aside from that, though, I had no trouble listening to him tell the story.
This is not a light read, even though there are a lot of hilarious scenes (the blow job scene in particular—I laughed out loud while I was driving). There is sex, smoking, excessive drinking, and a general disrespect for authority. There is depression and self-destructive behavior in an attempt to forget. But it's completely real, and you know there are teens out there going through exactly what Miles, Alaska and the Colonel do. This is completely worth the read, or a listen if you prefer.
Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.