Looking for Alaska
Unrequited love. Pranks. Rule-breaking. Illicit behavior.
Based on this, Looking for Alaska sounds like a pretty great young adult book, right? But it's also a novel about the meaning of love, the power of grief, hope, and redemption… which means it's dealing with pretty major—and pretty universal—life stuff, too.
How the heck does John Green do all this in only 221 pages? We don't know for certain, but we do know that we're not the only ones who think Green is working some serious literary magic with: it won the prestigious Printz award in 2006, plus it's one of Kirkus's best books of the year, and it made the ALA best book for young adults top ten list. And did we mention that it's Green's first novel? Because it is (it was published way back in 2005).
But if all of this fancy pants award winning doesn't pique your interest, then perhaps this will: Looking for Alaska is about a teen named Miles who desperately wants adventure. No matter how old you are or what your life's been like, that's a desire that pretty much anyone can relate to. And Miles doesn't just yearn for adventure—he goes out and gets it—which is a pretty inspirational move to boot.
Miles finds adventure, uncertainty, and excitement in spades at Culver Creek, the boarding school he transfers to for his junior year of high school. He gets to be pretty good friends with the Colonel, Takumi, and Alaska through smoking, pranking, and making mischief… and he falls madly in love with Alaska in the process. Alaska has a boyfriend who's off in college though, and this girl Lara really likes Miles, so there's a love triangle mixed into this book as well.
No really—this is a pretty major reveal. You definitely want to think twice about reading further if you haven't finished the book yet.
Okay, you ready? Don't say we didn't warn you. Alaska dies. And when she does, Miles is consumed with the mystery of her final moments and what her death means to him. He also has to reexamine his friendships with the Colonel and Lara and Takumi, try not to fail his classes, and help the Colonel plan an amazing Alaska Young Memorial Prank… that may just involve a little lying, a little truth, a Speaker Day, and a male stripper.
Drag out your tissue box, because you're going to laugh until you cry and also just plain old cry.
In Looking for Alaska, John Green shows us that in spite of the death of a friend and the agonies of grief and adolescence, the suffering of life and the hope that springs from it is worth the trouble.
Why Should I Care?
A lot of adults belittle the intense feelings and the experiences of teenagers. They think that teenage angst is overrated and that the complex emotions that buffet teenagers about as they seek themselves are small compared to adult problems and emotions.
And if this point of view were in a WWF match with Miles, Miles would hit it with the chair and knock it out.
The truth is, John Green shows us how formative teenage friendship, love, and grief are—andhe does it without making teenagers seem small and their situations contrived. He doesn't just show us the peaks and valleys of friendship, but instead he attempts to show us how Miles works through his grief following Alaska's death and forgives himself for letting her go.
Gosh, this sounds kind of boring, you might be thinking. Far from it, though, we promise. Sure there's some heavy lifting, but it's tempered with the stuff that really makes teenagers tick: love, rebellion, awkward sexual encounters. There's humor and lightness and joy throughout the book too, even after Alaska dies.
So how can we not care about Miles (Pudge) as he falls in love with Alaska? How can we not care about the deep philosophical questions he explores in the context of his own life—what is suffering, why do we suffer, and how do we retain hope within our personal labyrinths of suffering? The book forces us to confront our own suffering and to examine what is true about the love we have for our friends. It forces us to look at our own grief over what we have lost and how we have persisted in living.
And that makes the heavy lifting that Green asks us to do totally worth it in the end.