By John Green
“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
I’ve just finished reading a book. It’s the type of book that after you read the last line and gently close the book, you’re left feeling different. Maybe infinitesimally so, but certainly different. You feel changed. It’s the type of book that leaves you wondering why I’m even writing this blog. Like who cares whether or not I liked a book? There are such bigger, more important things to be writing about. There are such weightier questions to consider. There are such greater Perhaps to discover. The book was, of course, John Green’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska.
It tells the story of Miles Halter, a junior in high school, who has left behind his insignificant, friendless life in Orlando to attend Culver Creek Preparatory School, a boarding school in Alabama. He quickly fits into his roommate’s group of friends and starts to learn about the school’s culture: learn to take a joke, break the rules, don’t get caught, and definitely don’t rat. Then he meets Alaska, an intelligent, witty, beautiful girl who seems to have a dark past she doesn’t want to talk about. And he can’t get her off of his mind.
Despite its perfect teenage drama setup (maximum number of kids, minimal adult supervision, and lots of drinking and smoking) the book manages to stay away from many of the teenage drama stereotypes. There were no love triangles, the lead female was probably the smartest of all the characters, and they did a lot more talking about sex than actually having it. In fact, with the story set in a prep school and many of Miles’ friends being on scholarship, the storyline and dialogue tended toward much deeper, philosophical discussions than you would expect from a stereotypical young adult book. Miles is obsessed with people’s last words and much of the book’s storyline revolves around two famous sets of last words: Simón Bolívar’s “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” and François Rabelais’ “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Miles left his boring life in Orlando to find his Great Perhaps, and Alaska is obsessed with Bolívar’s labyrinth. Is it a symbol for life or for death? And how do you get out of it?
Green tackles big questions about life, death, and what comes next with raw emotion and genuine intensity. Although the book starts a bit slowly with the very uninteresting social life of a high school introvert, Green catches his stride about a quarter of the way in and delivers a very moving story about teenagers coming to terms with their vincibility. Whether you’re currently in high school or have been out for ten years, this book offers an intellectual look at the meaning of life and how to get through it, and hopefully it will make you stop and think just a little bit about where you’ll end up afterwards.