I’m a relatively new John Green fan. It happened immediately after I finished “The Fault in our Stars” last year. The book was so amazing that Green’s books immediately moved up my TBR pile. So I read “An Abundance of Katherines” and thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew that eventually I would read “Looking for Alaska,” but the timing never seemed to be right. Then late last spring, as we were at a film festival that our son entered, we watched student entries for book trailers and someone had entered one for “The Fault in our Stars.” I reminded my two high schoolers that I loved it and wanted them to read it as well. When we got home, my then-15-year-old son Daniel called me to his room and proceeded to show me some vlogs that he followed. I was shocked to discover that my son was a Nerdfighter; I had no idea. I knew he loved to watch different people on YouTube, but had no idea it was the famous Green Brothers. He was equally as astonished that his mother liked John Green — for his novels. We had a great laugh together and couldn’t believe we had never mentioned names when discussing the videos or the book.
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same
After discovering that we were both John Green fans, we decided we should both read one of his books. First I had him read “The Fault in our Stars” and we took our time discussing it. Then we decided it was time to read “Looking for Alaska.” I read it first, then gave it to him to read. While we both loved the book, we certainly had differing perspectives on it. We especially had different ideas about Alaska. I was not always a fan of Alaska. As a mom, I have to admit that I would not have been happy about my son hanging out with her — or my daughter being quite like her. Of course I did appreciate, however, that the teen protagonist Pudge had finally found acceptance with a group of friends and what a profound impact they — particularly Alaska — had on his life.
Daniel, now 16, felt that Alaska was the kind of girl that most guys would be attracted to. He admitted he had never met anyone like her (Pudge hadn’t either before her!), but that he was sure he would want to hang out with her. The character Pudge also reminded him of a friend. He related to the idea of wanting to belong. Daniel wanted to share his own thoughts on the book, but he broke his deadline to study for school (priorities!). Still, it was great to be able to read such a classing YA book together and talk about what made it special to both of us.
Overall, we both agreed that “Looking for Alaska” is a fantastic coming-of-age book that teens should read. We had in-depth talks about the depiction of drugs, sexuality, and also of friendship, love, and family. There is still so much that we never got around to discussing, but that’s the great thing about powerful books; you never run out of things to say about them! That’s the kind of book that “Looking for Alaska” is; you can’t stop thinking about or talking about it. It’s the sort of book that ruins you on other authors or books for a while, because nothing else quite measures up. The characters, those final words, they stay in your mind for a long time after you’ve finished the last page.
“Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”
“It’s not life or death, the labyrinth. Suffering. Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That’s the problem. Bolivar was talking about the pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering?”
“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.”
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”