Looking For Alaska by John Green (221 pages)
Overview: Miles has never had many friends at his local Florida public school. He is okay with that preferring instead to focus on his other hobbies (like reading biographies to discover famous people's last words). But, of course, this stagnant life isn't getting him any closer to finding the elusive "Great Perhaps", so he decides to follow in his fathers footsteps and enroll at Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama. His new roommate, Chip, otherwise known as the Colonel, bringing him into the center of his friend circle. With a new nickname, Pudge, and a group of outcast, rule breaking friends, Miles starts to feel like he's found a place where he can belong until their world is shaken by one tragic, and unexpected, death that leaves everyone to wonder why. Overall: 5 (Is there a number on the 1-5 scale higher than 5? Cause I need it for this book)
Characters: 5 Wow. I absolutely adore this cast. There's Pudge who has always been invested in school and aloof to anything outside the general, tunnel-vision approach to life. Meeting the Colonel and Alaska really push the boundaries of the world he knows, and he has to figure out if he can alter his views and definitions of the world. And in finding these people who take him on these adventures and challenge his thoughts, Pudge's life is really taken from zero to sonic speed; which is something that thrills him. He is allowed to grow and break the mold, thusly inching him closer to the great perhaps.
The other character I want to discuss is Alaska. She's always had this element of mystery that really matches her spontaneity. She drinks. She smokes. She's fine with breaking the rules even if she's fearful of the consequences of getting caught. And everything works out fine for her until she reaches the ultimate consequence. Alaska is one of those people who simply burns to bright. She feels everything extremely passionately, and that's exactly what she wants. In living her life on a precarious tightrope, she stands the risk of falling off; and sometimes the reader is left to wonder if she fully understands this. Yes, there have been characters like this before, even some written by Green, but Alaska has her own unique mark.
Plot: 5 The plot, much like the book, is fractured in two. There is a before and an after. Before is focused on watching Pudge's growth, seeing his become himself, and seeing him gather experiences and traits he will need to confront the after. In the After, we see the remaining group trying to reconcile with the catalyst, the tragedy. We see them work through their feelings, their disbelief, and their need to understand. And through this, the undeniable impact of the before is revealed.
Writing: 5 I love John Green's writing. It is intelligent and thought provoking. As I've now read my way through all of his books, I've noticed a few interesting common threads. Teen smoking is prevalent in all of his books and seems to be one of his favorite symbols. Though each of his characters see it in a different way, it is all ultimately viewed as a form of control.
There are also character tropes that Green has repeatedly explored. Much like in Paper Towns, this is the story of a boy who has lived neatly within the confines of school, family, and society. They want more, sure, but they never go after it until a girl who dances precariously on the edge with little care and plenty of mystery comes along to drag them into a whole new world before leaving them to figure out this new life by themselves. This isn't to say these books or characters and are the same, as they each have their own, unique mark, but the similarity is interesting. Luckily, this is one concept I enjoy reading about and exploring, the person who live at an unsustainable pace.
So, to make a long story short, I absolutely loved Looking For Alaska as well as the titular character, and it is now in my top five favorite books of all time.
The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee (441 pages)
Overview: The world close to eighty years in the future looks just as different and technologically advanced as you would imagine. New York City seems to have changed most of all with the edition of The Tower, a complex rising one thousand floors consisting of restaurants, apartments, shops, and parks. Really, no one leaves the tower unless they're taking the train on a three hour trip to Paris or a helicopter to the Hamptons. The residents of the upper floors and their children all live perfect bubble lives with access to everything they ever want and a life where they never have to lift a finger. Until, of course, things start to get complicated leading some to start mixing with the poorer people on living in the slums of downtower. One thing's for sure, in the months leading up to one girl falling from the roof of the tower to her death, nothing is normal. There are many plots and storylines that weave in and out in a way that makes the plot impossible to summarize here but makes for an intriguing story in a fascinating world.
I also want to say that I generally read contemporary books, so I was a bit weary of this futuristic book, but, as Katherine McGee said at Book Con, it really is a contemporary novel in a futuristic setting. So, if, like me, you aren't a science fiction lover, don't write this story off. Overall: 4.3
Characters: 4 There is quite the slew of characters that all mix and mingle with each other. Many of these characters are given point of view slots, or at least the illusion of it. Despite labeling each chapter with one of the six point of view characters, each chapter is narrated in third person with the same detached, cardboard, omniscient feel for each. As the story progressed, through their actions and reactions, I got to know the characters better, but some of them lacked necessary growth or humanization that left the majority of the characters flat.
Plot: 5 I'm giving the plot a five, with one caveat. The ending was rushed, flat, and disappointing. But ignoring the last twenty pages, the plot was what fueled the story, and, in part, made it difficult to put down. There are many twists and turns, some the reader discovers slightly before the characters and some total surprises. The main portion of the book, the majority of four hundred pages, I found captivating. Bravo on an excellent plot that is only dimmed by a lackluster beginning and end.
Writing: 4 I'll start with the positives. The world building in this book is amazing. The images were vivid and even though this was far flung technology in a Jetson-like world I could never construct alone in my mind, I could see and comprehend it all. McGee did a phenomenal job with this.
I also have to applaud her ability to twist and turn plots into and out of one another creating individually captivating storylines along with an epic story as a whole. For the remarkable execution here, I could not dock this score any lower than a four.
Now for the negatives which can pretty much be summed up by the beginning and the ending. Choosing to write in third person, and on top of that, not honing the voice to give any sense of the characters voices, by nature, made them flat as cardboard. If only she had chosen to give each POV a true point of view narration and used their first person voices instead of this alternate, weak, third person voice. The voice nearly turned me off of of the book from the first chapter, rightfully weary of investing close to ten hours on a book that only seemed subpar. Past this initial start, when the plot picks up the story is amazing. Until the ending when it all falls apart in a rushed, unsatisfying ending that seemed to be there simply because McGee had obligated herself to throw someone off the roof. There were loose ends left, obviously to be tackled the the second installment that comes out in August, but they were not set in a way that made me eager to get my hands on the next book (though I will most likely still read it).