Monday, February 11, 2013

Looking for Alaska

John Green did it again. He managed to write something that seemed to reflect real life so much that, upon finishing the book, I couldn't think of anything but the characters I had thought of. I felt nothing but an ache in my heart for them and I found myself reflecting back upon my own life experiences and going, "Well done, John Green, well done."

I had worried upon finishing The Fault in Our Stars that I wouldn't find Green's other books as well written and hypnotizing as that first experience and while I still feel that book is my favorite of the two Green books I've read... he certainly did not leave me disappointed with Looking for Alaska.

This, to me, is similar to a modern day Catcher in the Rye in that we are faced with teens who are at a boarding school who experiment with various things that are frowned upon. We deal with real life issues, much like that classic, but this book to me was much more real and the main character much more like any normal teen who happens to be sort of out of the social loop in High School and is generally very inexperienced with all aspects of life.

Miles (aka "Pudge") is your typical inexperienced High School teen who doesn't have many friends and goes to Culver Creek Boarding School with the hope of realizing the Great Perhaps. What does life have to offer and more specifically what does it have to offer him? At Culver Creek, much to his amazement, he gains a cluster of friends whom he grows close to very quickly. Through them he begins to experience parts of life he had previously looked past. Drinking, smoking, sex all is integrated into his day to day routine but there is one person, specifically, who is introduced to his life that endlessly leaves him guessing and feeling a list of emotions that no other person makes him feel.

Alaska Young: the girl who keeps him guessing, the girl who enters his thoughts, the girl that leaves him searching. Everything during Pudge's first year at Culver is categories as Before and After. Before what? Well, you'll have to read to see. But I feel that once again Green penned genuine emotion into all that happens during this book.

For those who do not mind spoilers or who have read the book already, my thoughts on the plot and what happens to the characters are as follows. For others who do not want to be spoiled, I suggest to you to stop reading:

My graduating class was a class of 80 students. That's a small class and to make it more intimate 85% of us had gone to that school since Kindergarten. We all remembered our embarrassing childhood haircuts and fights and those awkward teen years. The other 15% of the class had, for the main part, been with us since Middle School or the beginning of High School. This made us all quite close, even if we didn't consider each other all "friends" because we had quite literally grown up together. We knew each other's parents and siblings, we knew when someone would lose a relative or planned to move, we just knew each other's lives. 

By the time we had our graduation ceremony we were at 79 students. In January one of our classmates whom we had that familiarity with (some more than others) died. It was the first experience we had of losing someone our age. We thought we were unstoppable, immortal, and to have one of our own so quickly snuffed out left us baffled, hurt, and struggling to cope. For many of my classmates it was the first death they had ever experienced, for me, I was used to death by that point because of various family members having died from illness. But it was still confusing for me because, in my 17 year old mind, that was the way things were meant to go: you got sick and you died. You didn't just die suddenly out of the blue when you were perfectly fine and cheerful the previous day at school. Death only happened to those who were sick. It didn't happen to children or teens who were healthy. That type of death only happened in movies. It only happened to other people. Not to you.

My classmate died in a car crash and I found myself wondering of her final moments and thinking many of the same thoughts Miles thought after Alaska died. I was confused, hurt, and I didn't know what was the right way to think and what was the wrong way. I felt horrible when I caught myself enjoying life. How could I enjoy life when my classmate was dead? I had so many questions and it was painful to watch my fellow classmates suffer - especially the close friends of my classmate who had passed. 

Green was able to articulate so many of the reactions and feelings that seem to circle through a group of teens when they lose a fellow classmate that I wonder if he is just that damn smart and understanding of the world or if he himself had experienced such a loss. It's a topic that can be hard to explain and understand for people who had never experienced that before but Green hits the nail on the head. This book, I feel, would have been a great help for myself and my 78 other classmates during those cold winter days following my classmate's death.

I applaud authors who are willing to step out of the current mold of fantasy romantic fiction and write about real life issues. Many parents find this to be an issue and therefore challenge the books because they do not want their precious children to have to face such topics or to be inspired to do Bad Things. These books are what teens need to realize that what they are experiencing isn't something that makes them alone. So many others have experienced similar issues and events and it is okay to feel that way or cry or rage. Teens look for a way to be unique but they also want to feel normal and Green provides that comfort through literary skill.

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