I must admit, I found myself reflecting after finishing John Green’s “Looking for Alaska”. I reminisced about my time in elementary, high school (and even college, why not), thinking about the people I met during my schooling. Of course, encountering each person in our lives shapes and defines us in some way, there’s no doubt about that. But the period during our schooling is also when we form as individuals and begin to slowly “sense” how the world around us (supposedly) works. During this time, we often meet people who leave such an impression on us that we never forget them. But these people not only leave a strong impression, but their actions and thoughts “shake” us so much that we start to change (I hope positively) our views on certain things. With such people, we want to stay in touch for life as friends… or maybe even more.
However, life writes its own rules, and just as often, circumstances lead us to drift apart from such people. Or they simply disappear from our lives.
Though, you’ll meet such people even after finishing school. And there’s also the possibility of keeping them close… but also of losing them. Yeah…
In “Looking for Alaska”, we meet young Miles Halter. Our protagonist has been unnoticeable all his life (and seems to like it that way), when he suddenly decides to temporarily move to Florida and continue his education at “Culver Creek Preparatory High School”. Miles is one of those quiet, almost imperceptible guys. He loves to read, and particularly interesting is his “hobby” of reading biographies of world historical figures and memorizing their last words (yes, I know, now your hobby with napkins or scented stickers seems so harmless and boring 😀).
Soon after arriving, our protagonist gets a roommate in Chip “The Colonel” Martin, who rechristens the skinny Miles as “Pudge,” and the two quickly become friends.
The bad news is, on his very first night, Miles is kidnapped by the “Weekday Warriors” (a term used for the rich kids), wrapped in duct tape, and thrown into a nearby lake. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this isn’t typical newbie initiation but rather Miles being the victim of revenge by the rich kids, blaming “The Colonel” and his group for their (rich) friend being expelled from school, making poor “Pudge” both a victim and collateral damage.
And who are “The Colonel’s” companions? There’s wannabe hip-hop DJ Takumi Hikohito. And then there’s charming Lara, a Romanian immigrant who soon takes a liking to “Pudge”.
And there’s Alaska Young… Ah, Alaska… Young and stunning, but slightly emotionally unstable, a girl who instantly spins Pudge’s head and heart.
So our “Pudge” falls into this little group, known for their pranks on the “Weekday Warriors” and the dean in charge of students, known as “The Eagle” (with his piercing eyes), while trying to cope with challenging school subjects (including Professor Hyde, known as “The Old Man,” and his themes related to religion), flirting a bit, drinking a little, snacking, cheating on a test, finishing high school, going to college, getting a job, getting married, having children, and dying happy in old age.
And they all lived happily ever after…
…if only life was that simple, which it isn’t.
However, the plot of this novel has its own course. Just like life, right?
While reading “Looking for Alaska,” you get the impression that the author has indeed woven a part of himself and his high school experiences into this novel. And for that reason, I think this novel will appeal to all generations (but more on impressions later).
Well, apart from dealing with high school adventures and challenges that most of us go through to some extent (depending on your school, environment, and society) in some form (conflicts between rich and poor kids, pranks on teachers, first loves, sex, crushing on someone already in a relationship, encounters with alcohol and cigarettes, and so on), including conflicts with authorities, growing up, and more, this novel touches on some (at least to me) very interesting themes:
- Regret for the lost – I’ve mentioned this at the beginning. How can we cope with something that is lost/separated/distanced from us? Are we ready to continue living when, for example, we lose a valuable person from our lives, and thereafter our life is divided into periods of “before and after that person”? Do we ever manage to move on?
- “The Great Perhaps” – This is what our protagonist “Pudge” is seeking (and the reason for moving far away from his parents to an unknown environment). However, this “great perhaps” is something we all seek. It’s about finding our purpose in life, a goal with which we can identify, a place where we feel we belong, a person who makes us better, or something else. Can we ever find it, or is our task simply to search for it?
- “Damn it… how will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” – The last words supposedly attributed to South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, which Alaska mentioned to “Pudge,” with a promise that she’ll find him a girlfriend if he finds the answer to this question. Did “Pudge” manage to find the answer? Can we find the answer to this question? Maybe the real question is: Does the labyrinth even exist, or is it something we’ve created for ourselves to have a familiar framework, our comfort zone?
As you can notice, “Looking for Alaska” is not your typical teenage novel. The themes it deals with are quite diverse, deep, and at times very moving. This is a novel that everyone should read, and depending on your age and life experience, you will definitely “connect” with some details that you can mirror in your own life, and also reflect on some of your actions in life, as well as see what message emerges from it all. I believe that some of the questions that will “arise” in your heart will be like “What if I had done this differently?”, “What if I had hesitated less?”, “What if I had been just a little braver?”, “What if I had been just a little less afraid?” and similar. You know best what questions you hide in your heart. 😊
The writing style is very pleasant and relaxing. Despite the deep themes, it is not strenuous to read, nor does it require breaks for contemplation. This is a novel you’ll breeze through, and then ponder over everything you’ve read.
All in all, a novel that could even be part of the curriculum in our schools. Because this is a book about the lives of young people, about how their lives are shaped. Let go of the fact that cigarettes, alcohol, pranks, and sex are mentioned. That is something that surrounds every generation of youth. Just as young people are advised to read “We Children from Zoo Station” to see what drugs do to people, so “Looking for Alaska” shows what fear and the loss of someone can do to shape a person’s life.
At the moment I finished this novel, a series on HBO was released, so I definitely plan to see how much the series managed to convey the emotions from the book. And of course, perhaps do a review? 🙂
And you, dear reader, has there been someone/something in your life that divided your life into a period of “before and after”? 🙂
(Originally reviewed: 17/11/2019)