Sunday, 2 September 2012

Looking For Alaska

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green's arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Who Recommended it to Me: a girl who works with my mom
Who I'd Recommend it To: Girls and boys age 13 and up

My review(may contain mild spoilers):
All I could think after I shut this book, letting the crackly library cover sink back into the worn hardcover, was, "Wow." I just sat there for a few moments, and then let everything that John Green had just put in my head sink in.  

This book hit me hard.  Not like 10-pound-rock-thrown-on-your-head hard, but wow-I-have-never-thought-about-the-world-this-way hard.  About halfway through the book I got that feeling.  I'll be completely honest, I think it hit me harder than The Fault in Our Stars did, if that's even possible. My writing teachers in school have always told me, when concluding a piece, "Go out with a bang," or "Give your readers something to think about." Certainly, this was the best ending of a book that I've ever read.  The book was amazing and it got even more amazing towards the end. 

To me, this book had two main themes: that everyone physically sexy or beautiful or attractive is so much more than a pretty face, and that death goes past, well, death.  That even people who are dead are still present in a way that's hard to grasp. When Miles first meets Alaska, the only thing he can think is that she's the prettiest girl he's ever seen.  But then he gets to know her further and realizes that she is more than a pretty face and that her life has been nothing but a startling enigma to her, just a constant mess of emotions that's hard for her to control. 

Alaska is beautiful.  She's a hard-core feminist.  A book lover.  Someone who "smokes [cigarettes] to die". Someone who talks about death casually and half-jokingly, and someone who no one expects to take her own life.  Someone who catches the eyes of all the boys in the school.  Someone who goes through each day thinking she killed her mother. Someone who chose her own name by looking at a globe.  Someone who has more complicated layers to her than it looks at first. 

I'm not sure I can sum up all this book has given me in one review. So I'm going to post the last passage from Looking For Alaska right here so you can read it and analyze it yourself.  

"Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in a back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home. But that only led to a lonely life accompanied by only the last words of the already-dead, so I came here looking for a Great Perhaps, for real friends and a more-than-minor life. And then I screwed up and he screwed up and we screwed up and she slipped through our fingers. And there’s no sugar-coating it: She deserved better friends.

When she f*cked up, all those years ago, just a little girl terrified into paralysis, she collapsed into the enigma of herself. And I could have done that, but I saw where it led for her. So I still believe in the Great Perhaps, and I can believe in it in spite of having lost her.

Because I will forget her, yes. That which came together will fall apart imperceptibly slowly, and I will forget, but she will forgive my forgetting, just as I forgive her for forgetting me and him and everyone but herself and her mom in those last moments she spent as a person. I know now that she forgives me for being dumb and scared and doing the dumb and scared thing. I know she forgives me, just as her mother forgives her. And here’s how I know:

I thought at first that she was dead. Just darkness. Just a body being eaten by bugs. I thought about her a lot like that, as something’s meal. What was her - green eyes, half a smirk, the soft curves of her legs - would soon be nothing, just the bones I never saw. I thought about the slow process of becoming bone and then fossil and then coal that will, in millions of years, be mined by humans of the future, and how they would heat their homes with her, and then she would be smoke blowing out of some smokestack, coating the atmosphere. I still think that, sometimes, think that maybe ‘the afterlife’ is just something we made up to ease the pain of loss, to make our time in the labyrinth bearable. Maybe she was just matter, and matter gets recycled.

But ultimately I do not believe tat she was only matter. The rest of her must be recycled, too. I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts. If you take her genetic code and you add her life experiences and the relationships she had with people, and then you take the size and shape of her body, you do not get her. There is something else entirely. There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.

Although no one will ever accuse me of being much of a science student, one thing I learned from science class is that energy is never created and never destroyed. And if she took her own life, that is the hope I wish I could have given her. Forgetting her mother, failing her mother and her friends and herself - those are awful things, but she did need to fold into herself and self-destruct. Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be. When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us great than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.

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." -John Green, Looking For Alaska

The rest, I'll leave to you. 

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