Looking For Alaska :: John Green
How will we ever get out of this labyrinth is the over-arching question that becomes the through-line for the entire novel of John Green’s Looking For Alaska, a question that is originally posed by Alaska herself to her religions teacher, and to the world in general (borrowed from the supposed last words of Simon Bolivar). The question meanders through the plot of the novel, becoming a haunting question to those Alaska abruptly leaves behind; a question they are driven to answer as a means to recover the loss of Alaska, and to also be able to find some kind of peace within themselves. The question becomes a means to define hope, at least that is how I took it in, and as a way to elicit the kind of thinking and discussion, even if the discussion is within ourselves, on what gives us the hope to carry on.
What is it that we carry with us in order to persist out of the labyrinth of life?
In the end, I found myself mulling over the question, having my own internal dialogue, and at time diatribe, trying to suss out what exactly hope looks like to me. I almost felt consumed with the question for a few days after reading, and even though I have a bit of distance from the text now, I still find myself going back to that question, ever contemplating what my flashlight used to light my way out of the labyrinth is.
The fact that I find myself at this place, wondering and musing about this question, is a sure sign that this book moved me, and that I can truly say at this juncture that I loved the book. I note this especially because at the start of reading this novel, and admittedly for a good part of the first half of reading, I did not think I even liked the book at all.
I think this was partially because of how much I loved The Fault In Our Stars, the kind of love that had me telling everyone I knew about the book and had the book shooting to my top five list of all-time favorites. That is a hard act to follow, and I will readily admit that my expectations were beyond high for this book, high enough that there was quite a potential of falling from such heights, and ultimately be disappointed.
The other notable reason could have been that I really did not like the character of Alaska, and although I did eventually realize her necessity in the story, and I did feel the weight of her pain in an empathetic sort of way, I still never did end up liking her.
I have had this issue in the past with certain characters, some that are significantly beloved in the literary community and which I just have never been able to wrap my heart around; Holden Caulfield, for example, though it seems mentioning that I do not like him (or any of Salinger’s characters/Glass Family) seems to threaten my position as book lover among the many book lovers I know (and love).
So be it, the truth of it is that I still do not like Holden, and I still do not like Alaska, but maybe in this instance the reader does not need to like Alaska, but only understand that Pudge, The Colonel, Takumi and Lara not only like her, but love her. Thus, for me it is their stories that make up Looking for Alaska more than it is ever hers, and once I came to terms with that fact it allowed me to fall in love with the book.
There are similarities to be found between this book and Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, The Virgin Suicides, especially in the way the story is unfolded, how our narrator is limited in his point of view between what is fact and what is fiction, and that we are left with the mystery of it all, just as they (Pudge, The Colonel, Takumi and Lara) will always be. The mystery of it, that blur between what is real and what is imagined, or assumed, is part of the magic of this story, though. We go through the search with them, we feel the emotional roller coaster that accompanies grief, and we experience along with them what it feels like to be left behind when someone may have taken their own life. As someone who lost someone to what is assumed to be suicide (the mystery persists) I know, first hand, what all that confusion and confliction feels like, and I think John Green captured it perfectly in this book.
As with The Fault In Our Stars, this is not a book about death and dying, although both do occur. Instead, this is a book about life, about hope, about persistence, about seeking truth and about surviving realizing when truth becomes fuzzy. It is a story about love and belief, about philosophy and religion, about life as an adolescent, about boarding school, about books and intelligence and conversation, and about friendship and love, the kind that sticks with us for our forevers.
For me, most of all, it was a story about hope, which is what I take with me from reading it. What is it that I carry with me in order to persist out of the labyrinth of life? Music and love, always music and love – they are my “hope“, and my arsenal to bring along as I explore my own “Great Perhaps”.