Looking for Alaska, by John Green, is divided into two parts: “Before” and “After”. The first chapter is named “One Hundred Thirty-Six Days Before”. Each following chapter counts down the days, until the last chapter of the first part: “The Last Day”. Then the second section starts with “The Day After”.
Somewhere around “One Hundred Days Before”, I was loving the book, but also having misgivings about it. It was reminding me a little too much of Paper Towns – also by John Green.
Looking for Alaska was published in 2005, and Paper Towns was published in 2008, but I read Paper Towns over a year ago, so from my frame of reference, it came before Looking for Alaska.
In both books, the protagonist is a high school aged, nerdy boy with few friends. Both stories center around an attractive girl who is close and yet distant – not a romantic possibility. Both girls are mysterious rebels, with a talent for pranks. Both boys seems to enjoy explaining things with numbered lists.
“We called him Radar because his looked like a little bespectacled guy called Radar on this old TV show M*A*S*H, except 1. The TV Radar wasn’t black, and 2. At some point after the nicknaming, our Radar grew about six inches and started wearing contacts, so I suppose that 3. He actually didn’t look like the guy on M*A*S*H after all, but 4. With three and a half weeks left of high school, we weren’t very well going to renickname him.”
Looking for Alaska:
“I’d be lying, though, if I claimed I became a smoker to ward off insects. I became a smoker because 1. I was on an Adirondack swing by myself, and 2. I had cigarettes, and 3. I figured that if everyone else could smoke a cigarette without coughing, I could damn well, too. In short, I didn’t have a very good reason. So yeah, let’s just say that 4. it was the bugs.”
I became worried that, like Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns, the “Before” was going to be disappearance of Alaska Young.
And, Alaska did disappear – but not at all like the way Margo Roth Spiegelman disappeared. By that point, however, the two books had gone in two different directions.
I’ll call Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns variations on a theme, rather than one being a rewrite of the other.
I loved Looking for Alaska. I loved Paper Towns. And I loved The Fault in Our Stars – which was not about a nerdy boy and a pretty girl out of his reach.