Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

Buy Looking for Alaska on Amazon and B&N
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Book blurb as seen on 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” (Fran├žois 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.

This is kind of like what I said when I critiqued Gone Girl: I’m a little late to the party. But nonetheless, I’ll have a go at it.

John Green creates characters who are not very realistic, but they are believable, and I suppose that’s all that matters. You’d have to search pretty hard in middle America to find teens who can quote obscure literature, but they’re out there. Most boys don’t have the ability to internally evaluate why their girlfriends are raging bitches and yet continue to see them, but Green’s character does. And you buy it. And that self-destructive teen you knew growing up probably doesn’t remind you that much of Alaska, but that’s because most of us never got to know them. I bet if I went back in time I could find some Alaskas walking the halls of my high school, and I might even like them, if I gave them a chance.

I think that’s what I love the most about Green’s books. The characters. People I may never meet in real life, but they seem as real to me as the neighbors down the street. I can see what they look like, feel how they feel and understand their motivations. Even when they do things that are stupid, Green makes it make sense. At least in the context of the character.

A fellow AWer recently called John Green’s books “pity porn”. I got a chuckle out of that. Because they kind of are. It doesn’t change that I absolutely adore the two I’ve read, but it does put it in perspective. There’s a reason I’ve only read two, and spread them out over a number of years. There’s only so much sadness I can take in one novel.

These stories are moving and profound, and they have the ability to put us into the lives of people we might never have really understood. TFIOS helps us to see people with terminal illness as people, not just a sad story. Looking for Alaska gave us a glimpse into the life of a troubled teen with questionable moral values, but we still felt sad at her tragedy. I think these novels give us another way to look at the world and life and people in it, without our context. Or maybe it’s in our context. Too often these people on the peripherals of our lives can be marginalized and compartmentalized so that they are no longer human beings. Green forces us to see them as human, giving us the context to care for them not as pity cases, or incidents to shake our heads in disapproval, but to mourn their loss and cry over their bad decisions.

I have felt changed after both of the John Green novels I have read. We talk about needing diversity in books, and I think Green is being diverse. Maybe not in the color of skin or religion or the things we usually think of as diversity, but we live in a world where diversity is rampant; in our personalities, our dreams, our experience. Every time I read a novel that opens me up to the experience of another person, I feel enriched. Which is what I feel diversity, in all its forms, can do for us.

My Review: 4 stars

Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

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Ahh, the rejection letter. The big “R”. That nasty little email we wait and wait for, only to drown in sorrows when it arrives. But is it really all that bad? Um, yeah, it is, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s 5 reasons why those R’s can be a force for good:

1) I’ve sent out thirty queries and all I have to show is an inbox full of form rejections. (And that doesn’t include all the “no response means no”)
Okay, yeah, this is the worst. You’ve spent months, maybe years, perfecting that novel. Then months (hopefully not years) perfecting that query. Not to mention the agents who want a synopsis. And of course, every agent has different requirements: No attachments – Everything in the body of the email – PDFs only – Word doc only – Synopsis – No synopsis – 1st 10 pages – 1st 3 chapters and on and on . . .

You’ve worked your butt off and all you get is a lousy form rejection. And it’s headed with Dear Author, or maybe they used a name, just not your name. It can feel like utter, abject failure. But you’re wrong. First, let’s look at that statement: You’ve worked your butt off. You have! You know more about how to write a query, what to avoid, what agents might be interested in your work than you did before you started. It may not be much conciliation at this point, but just think of the experience you gained. Most authors aren’t published on their first try, so failure at this point isn’t really failure. It’s just one step in a long journey, so don’t stop now! (Incidentally, 30 queries isn’t that many, so don’t stop at thirty!)

2) I’ve received several requests for partial or full submissions, but they’ve all come back with a form rejection. Yup, this one’s hard too! You’ve gotten your hopes up that maybe, just maybe, an agent or publisher is going to like your work, then bam! None for you! But yes, there’s a sliver lining here too. So said agent or publisher read your letter. Either they liked your query, or the writing sample, or both. Worst case (and you’ll never know) they weren’t very impressed by the writing or query, but thought the premise of your story was interesting enough to give it a try. Unfortunately you have no idea why they decided to reject, but you do have something. The query worked. Or maybe your writing sample was strong. The idea has promise. Maybe the agent didn’t connect with it (universal agent code for they don’t want to represent this story) but that’s okay. From what I gather, an agent has to really be in love with an MS to represent it. You may just have to go through a lot of query letters before you find the agent that does. So keep sending out those queries, because clearly something is working.

3) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission telling me what they didn’t like about the story. Well, honestly, this one isn’t too bad. Rejections suck in all forms, but knowing why an agent didn’t fall head-over-heels with your novel is fantastic. Why? Because you know what you can work on. Or, in one case for me, I knew that agent wasn’t right for me anyway, so I didn’t feel bad about the rejection. She thought the story was going to be more character driven by my query and writing sample, but was disappointed to find out it had a lot of action. Cool! I have no intention of changing my YA novel to remove the action, so no biggie. She wasn’t the right fit. Now, had she said I did too much telling instead of showing, or the middle was boring and bogged down, or my MC was too whiny and annoying, then I have concrete things to work on. Not that you have to take what an agent says to heart. He or she is only one opinion, but it does give you something to think about.

4) I received a personalized rejection for this novel based on the query and the writing sample, but the agent asked to see my other work. Um, so just to be clear, there’s nothing sad about this! The agent liked your writing. Let me repeat: THE AGENT LIKED YOUR WRITING! This is golden. Not only are they asking to see more of your work, when you have something ready to send, there’s a good chance they will remember you! Be sure to mention your previous work and that they said X, Y and Z about it. Now is not the time to be shy. Consider this your personal invitation, because you now have a leg up on the entire slush pile!

5) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission, but the agent invited me to submit my future work. Once again, no frowny faces here! So they aren’t interested in representing this novel, which stinks, but there are often reasons. One of my latest rejections on a full was because the Post-Apocalyptic market is flooded and she didn’t think she could sell it. But she had many wonderful things to say about the manuscript. Take those compliments, store them in your little heart of hearts, and get back to work! You have agents who want to see future work, so make that future work. And make it as good or better than the novel they rejected. To repeat, this is a personal invitation. And just as a little tip, I got in the habit of telling the agents what I was working on next when I sent them my submission (I’m talking requested material, not query.) This generated interest by several agents in my next project. I have agents eager to see my next novel, and it isn’t even written yet!

So that’s all I have. There are many kinds of rejections, and I’m sure I didn’t highlight them all, but this should give you a little boost in finding that silver lining. Rejections are hard, no denying it, but if you want to do better, get better and be better, you must learn from them. I haven’t completely given up on I Have No Name, but I’m happy to save it for later while I work on another project. And I have learned so much about how to navigate this business in the mean time that my energies are far from wasted!

What have you learned from rejections that has helped you (or is currently helping you) to be a better writer and make the next one stick?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

Vote for my friend!

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I just want to give a quick shout out to my friend, sage Collins. She has written a short story (Gluttony) for the March Flash Madness 2015 contest and I want you all to vote for her! Please visit the site, read both stories, and (hopefully!) vote for Sage by mentioning her name in the comments. I may be biased, but personally I really did like her story best. Thanks everyone!