Challenged Books: Looking for Alaska

***SPOILER ALERT… THERE WILL BE SPOILERS HERE. DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ***

John Green is a very popular author of Young Adult books, and apparently a very popular vlogger. I just found that out after a quick google. He seems like a downright nice guy that (holy moly) wrote a book that some called pornographic.

looking-for-alaska-aLooking for Alaska is Green’s first novel. He based the fictional story on an incident that happened at the boarding school that he attended in Alabama. It is hardly pornographic. There is a sex scene, talk about sex and bad language spoken by the high school students in the story. The drink and smoke a LOT of cigarettes. If that stuff bothers you or might bother your children, then please don’t read it, but you will miss out on a much deeper story about diversity, life, death, acceptance and more.

SPOILERS ARE COMING UP. I’LL WAIT WHILE YOU GO BUY THE BOOK, BORROW IT OR CHECK IT OUT FROM THE LIBRARY. OTHERWISE, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

So, here we go. Forget about the challenge nonsense because that’s not what this book is about. It is divided into “Before” and “After” and the “Before” part is pretty standard. Five juniors in a boarding high school become friends and do stuff that teenagers do. Mostly, they try to stay one step in front of the Dean of Students “the Eagle” and not get expelled. They do not go on a field trip or run away to Alaska. Alaska Young is one of the 2 girls in the group and the fantasy girlfriend of all the boys in the school.

We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken.

~John Green, Looking for Alaska

Two of the 5 friends, Lara, the girl from Romania and Takumi, the boy from Japan, are more peripheral. Besides Alaska, there is the Colonel and Pudge (both nicknames). The story is told from Pudge’s point of view and he is the new kid at the school.

It is the “After” part of the book that is the most interesting and intriguing (and the saddest). Alaska dies in a horrible single car accident. This happens in the wee hours of the morning. Alaska, the Colonel and Pudge have been drinking. Alaska gets a phone call (or makes one to) her boyfriend during which she remembers something that sends her spiraling into a hysterical state and she insists that the boys must help her leave by distracting the Eagle so she can drive away. She escapes, gets to the interstate, and drives straight into a stopped police car with sirens and lights blaring, stopped because it was at the scene of a jack-knifed semi.

We know that Alaska has these hysterical episodes which she never explains to her friends, she blames herself for her mother’s death that happened when she was a child, she is generally self-destructive and a risk taker, and to the question that Simon Bolivar allegedly posed when he was dying, “how will I ever get out of this labyrinth”, Alaska answered “straight and fast.”

Was her death an accident or a suicide?

In the aftermath of Alaska’s death, the Colonel and Pudge need to know the answer to that question and they go about “investigating” each in his own way. John Green does an excellent job taking us along with each boy as they go through different phases of grief.

They cry, drink, get angry with themselves and with Alaska, and they isolate themselves. They talk to the policeman whose car she ran into and find out her blood alcohol level was .24. The Colonel drinks until he hits .24 to see if he could have even driven and he could barely walk. They drove through the location of the accident to see what Alaska saw last and they decided to pull the prank Alaska had come up with as a memorial to her.

So does it even matter which it was? Pudge calls it the suident at one point.  I have never had anyone I loved die by accident, but I am a survivor of suicide loss and I suspect the grief process is similar (just without the stigma of mental illness, suicide or failure). The after section illustrates the anguish and angst that such a survivor goes through not knowing the answers. It is a natural inclination of humans to want to know why an unexpected death happens, and if we know why, then perhaps we can piece together if any of it was our own fault. If it is an accident, then at least you can have the feeling that your friend did not want to die because if they choose to die does that mean your relationship meant nothing to them?

John Green does a great job documenting the emotions these teens are going through, and what they do to come to some kind of reconciliation with this tragedy. I’ve spoiled enough. I won’t tell you what they figure out in the end.

 

 

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