"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Looking for Alaska


No one prepared me for Looking for Alaska by John Green. This is the type of book that changes you. I can't pinpoint exactly how I feel about it because my feelings are so conflicting. I loved it and hated it all at the same time. But isn't that makes good literature? That which makes the reader feel and over-analyze? I seriously cannot wait to explore and dissect this text in class. My book is full of sticky notes.

Looking for Alaska was published in 2005 by Speak. Let's start with a synopsis although mine will not do the book justice. You just have to read it! The book is split into two parts: one entitled "Before" and the other, "After." Each chapter is a countdown to something, beginning with "One hundred thirty six days before." 16 year-old Miles "Pudge" Halter gets sent to Culver Creek Prep School in Alabama by his parents. He is happy to leave his Florida life behind and is in search of the "Great Perhaps." He is intelligent and a bit quirky being that he is obsessed with the famous last words of people before they die. Morbid, right? Anyway, Miles meets his roommate, Chip "Colonel" Martin who quickly introduces him to his small circle of friends including the gorgeous, Alaska Young. Pudge is immediately infatuated with the beautiful, self-destructive, intelligent, and sassy Alaska but she has a boyfriend named Jake that she is utterly in "love" with. The small group consists mostly of Colonel, Pudge, Alaska, Takumi, and Lara. They would smoke excessively, engage in pranks on campus, and drink heavily together. Pudge is in a religion class that he is particularly fond of. It focuses on three major religions and the afterlife associated. The theme for his class mirrors his life and he doesn't even realize it at first. The major question for this class for the semester was: "What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?" (Green 32). It ties in perfectly with his future relationship with Alaska. The antics and relationships within the group of friends are very entertaining but none so much as Alaska and Pudge's. You will watch as Pudge quickly falls in love with her while at the same time knowing she is self absorbed, destructive, and depressed. Pudge longs to be with Alaska but she always plays the, "I have a boyfriend" card, although she clearly likes Pudge also. The night of the group's first huge prank together (that Pudge describes as the best day of his life), Alaska talks about her mother. She explains that on January 9, 1997 her mother took her to the zoo and it was the best day of her life. But the worst day of her life was the next day, when her mother fell to the floor with a brain aneurysm and Alaska failed to call 911. The group sat, silent and shocked, as none of them had ever known this fact about Alaska.


The first half "Before" ends with Pudge and Alaska finally making out one night during a game of "Truth or Dare," to which Alaska abruptly ends with a, "To be continued." Alaska, Pudge, and Colonel fall asleep heavily intoxicated and Alaska receives a phone call. She leaves the room and returns frenzy, hysterical, and clearly upset. She is continually apologizing and yelling that she needs to leave. The boys distract the Eagle so that she can make a get away in her car but remember, she has been drinking. The next half begins with the page entitled "After." After what you may ask? Well, the following morning Pudge and Colonel wake up with Alaska nowhere to be found. When the Eagle calls everyone into the gym and announces that Alaska Young has been in a terrible car accident and has died. Everyone is shocked. Pudge throws up. Colonel starts yelling. One can only imagine the pain that they are feeling and especially Pudge. Now he is left with so many questions: What could we have been? Did she love me? Was it really an accident? Did she commit suicide? The boys, with the help of Takumi, try to solve the mystery of Alaska's death. They mostly hit dead ends and decide to celebrate Alaska's life and legacy with a huge prank. They hire a male stripper to pretend to be a professor for Speaker Day and once he has stripped off his clothes he yells, "This one's for Alaska Young." Bravo!

After many phone calls, trips to the police station, cigarettes, booze, and the help of Takumi, they come to the conclusion that Alaska realized it was the anniversary of her mother's death and she missed it. So, while on the phone with her boyfriend and drawing her favorite flower doodle, she jumped up and grabbed the flowers he gave her to put at her mother's grave site. She needed Pudge and Colonel to distract the Eagle so she could get away in her car. She drove, with a .24 BAC onto the freeway to get to her mother's grave with flowers. But there was a truck in the middle of the freeway and a police car was there. The police car turned on the lights but Alaska's car didn't slow down or brake, and she went straight into the police car. The impact killed her instantly. 

Once Pudge found out the story behind Alaska's death and that he and Pudge had not actually been the last ones to let her go, Takumi was, he felt closure. He was able to say his peace and accept that he would always love Alaska. He could finally move on. "So I know she forgives me, just as I forgive her. Thomas Edison's last words were: 'It's very beautiful over there.' I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful," (Green 221).

I screamed when I read that Alaska died and then consequently threw my book across the room. REALLY JOHN GREEN, REALLY?! I was completely and utterly taken off guard. Not many authors are brave enough to kill off a main character mid-story. Why did Alaska have to die? Why couldn't the story have played out and Pudge and Alaska could ride off happily ever after into the sunset? Ok, I get it. Alaska needed to succumb to her self-destructive life style and Pudge needed her to die in order to find his "Great Perhaps." But I'm not happy about it. I wish she had lived...

However, I do enjoy John Green's beautiful writing and how poetic Pudge himself was. The ending of the book when Pudge finally comes to peace with Alaska's death is beautifully written. Ok, the whole book is beautifully written. Here are my favorites lines from the book that do not have curse words in them:

"She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor," (Green 19).
"So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane," (Green 88).
"People, I thought, wanted security. They couldn't bear the idea of death being a big black nothing, couldn't bear the thought of their loved ones not existing, and couldn't even imagine themselves not existing. I finally decided that people believed in an afterlife because they couldn't bear not to," (Green 100).
"After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out-- but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it," (Green 217).

Looking for Alaska is a controversial realistic fiction novel and I can understand why. There is strong language, sex, drugs, religion, and rebellion of all sorts. It is definitely a contemporary story and relatable for many high school students and adults alike. There is something about this book that makes me absolutely love it, and completely despise it, all at the same time. Is it because Alaska Young reminds me of myself? Is it because I'm so infuriated with John Green's killing her off? Is it because I'm a "happy ever after" type of person and cannot handle reality? I'm not sure I'll ever know the reason. Despite my personal conflicts with the text, Looking for Alaska is a quick and enticing read. At the end of the day, I absolutely loved it.

"...and I would always love Alaska Young, my crooked neighbor, with all my crooked heart,"

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