[Book Review] Looking For Alaska


I believe I have fallen in love with John Green.

Yes, I am quite aware – as Inkheart, a perfect book filled with metalanguage, taught me – that authors aren’t their characters and that we tend to fantasize about them, even though they are real, flesh-and-bone creatures just as you and me. And yet I can’t help bonding with them, feeling like I know them a little, thinking of them as friends and, when one of them writes something this precious, giving them a place on my heart.

I can’t imagine how anyone might possibly dislike Looking For Alaska (John Green, paperback by Penguin USA, 221 pages), the brilliant tale of how Pudge meets the Colonel, Alaska and Takumi, characters as special as their names would suggest. It follows my favorite topic for storytelling: people, simply people. A story set in high school, this is much, much more than your typical teenage book: the plot is so rich and the characters, so complete, that the reader is just as crushed by the events in it as the ones living the story themselves.

After a “Before” (the first half of the book, named that way by the author himself) that will make you fall in love with every single character, the “After” (don’t worry, I won’t ever intentionally give spoilers on this blog, I promise) is the cherry on top of the cake for Looking For Alaska. Unexpected, strong and well thought of, I hadn’t read such a good plot twist in a while; the simple idea of dividing the book in two parts is brilliant itself, for it divides not only the story per se, but also the tone in which it is told and the behavior of the characters around what happened.

If the story is already good by itself, John’s writing must also be praised. He understands the world he is describing well enough to create successful, credible dialogues, much superior to so many authors who only seem to reproduce a mirage of this generation. Every character has many nuances and, by the time you think you have gotten to know them, John slaps you on your face with the perfect white glove of short, simple, shocking lines. No flourishes, no unnecessary adjectives, no pretentious glamour, and yet worthy of study and reflection, filled with symbols (the cigarettes being my favorite), with color and warmth, with Alaska’s poetry and Pudge’s biographies, with every element that makes a classic. A classic just as I dare say this book will one day be considered.

Personally, I must say that this story seems to have shaken my heart and put it back on its place with a more desperate, more active pumping; one of my favorite things about reading is how words – simple, tiny, ink-on-paper words – can affect the reader in ways the author never expected. There was a passage in Looking For Alaska, after the, well, “After”, that made me close my eyes, take a deep breath and repeat the line again and again and again in my head: “We are all going”. If I had the opportunity to hug Mr. Green, I would do it, not only for being a brilliant nerdfighter, but for writing lines that broke my heart, which is just what you need of your literary friends every once in while. To break your heart so it can be fixed.

Pudge, a skinny boy who loves famous people’s last words, wouldn’t be disappointed to see this book as part of his biography. Perfect in its simplicity, it is as beautiful a daisy as Alaska’s favorite flowers and a great propeller of readers into the Great Perhaps.


[Book Review] Hush, Hush and Crescendo


After the success of the Twilight saga, it is time for romantic angels to take the stand. But do not imagine that these angels will have fluffy white wings and save anyone from peril: in Hush, Hush and its sequels, they are bad-boyish, black-wearing, dark-eyed, flirty creatures.

When I bought Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon & Schuster, 416 pages), more than a year ago, I thought it had a 50% chance of actually being any good. Like many supernatural book sagas, it has a mysterious boy, an intelligent female protagonist and a simple plot with conflict being there probably only because an editor wanted it to make the cut. It has a pretty cover, the “prince charming” is attractive and it has positive reviews by other authors of the genre. That’s not, however, an infallible recipe, and it does end up poorly every once in a while.

It didn’t with the first book. On Hush, Hush, we are introduced to Nora, a girl who lives with her mom on a farmhouse and seemingly has only one friend, Vee. She studies, she doesn’t go wild, she calls her mom everyday: she lives as safely as it gets. Then in comes bad boy Patch, who ends up being her lab partner (I don’t know if the author has read Twilight, but this reminded me immediately of how Bella met Edward to the point of it looking awkwardly like a copycat) and has a mysterious aura around him that Nora is desperate to understand.

The story is incredibly simple. They meet, they talk, conflict comes, conflict is solved. Action, just as in Twilight, plays a nearly secondary role; in fact, if you have consumed enough books/movies/tv shows, you will easily solve the “mystery” much faster than Nora and find it a bit silly, but it doesn’t mean the book is bad. In fact, it covers perfectly the most important part of writing a good book: reaching its goal. The romantic parts are well written and Patch is an incredibly sexy “prince”, one of the sexiest I recall ever reading about. Vee is also an interesting, fun character.

On the second book, however, the author isn’t as successful, even though she tried to. She brings a plot much more complex and interesting than the one from the first book, which means the climax does actually work. The problem is, however, that this is a book with 400+ pages entirely told from Nora’s point of view, which requires her to be interesting (I’m not even asking for charismatic) enough to keep the pages being turned. The protagonist is, however, unbelievably irritating on Crescendo (Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon & Schuster, 464 pages), having unexplainable fits of jealousy and self-destructive behavior because of Patch. In New Moon, this worked out with Bella because it made sense: she got sad to the point of depression after Edward left and needed to feel something, anything. In Crescendo, though, Nora sounds like an annoying brat for about three quarters of the story, which made the book, at least for me, feel like an obligation rather than pleasure.

I have heard that everything improves on the third book, which convinced me to read it someday, but, if you don’t have enough patience, I’d advise on reading only Hush, Hush, which does have decent enough an ending to close the story with no need for sequels. But, if you don’t mind having to quickly scan through Nora’s thoughts on Book 2, I believe there is still enough mystery to make the rest of the books interesting enough – or so I hope.