Guess who FINALLY got an NYC library card?
So, I immediately checked out three books, one being John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” (After reading “The Fault in Our Stars,” I decided I very much enjoy his writing style and plan to read all his other books. This was the only one at the library at the time.)
As I had a couple writing projects I had to get done, it took me two days to read all 221 pages of “Looking for Alaska.” A friend told me she sobbed while she read the book. As I knew the gist of the book heading into it, I quickly picked up on the foreshadowing and correctly guessed the climax of the story. My main focus became how the major characters dealt with (or didn’t deal with) what happened and I found myself getting really angry. I was angry at the characters and I was angry with myself.
So, the book is about this teenager named Miles who goes to a coed boarding school in Alabama for his junior year. There, he is roommates with a short, but authoritative boy named Chip (aka “The Colonel”) and he befriends and becomes very attracted to Alaska (a girl who smokes and loves her boyfriend, Jake).
All of these teens and their immediate peer group have not been dealt the greatest hands. Miles had no friends back in his hometown. The Colonel’s dad left him and his mom. Alaska watched her mom die. Though they have their problems, together they make a little rag-tag team/family and even though things aren’t great, at least they don’t suck so much.
Until they do.
One of the characters dies part way through the book. Even if I didn’t know the plot going in, there is an actual countdown happening as you read (instead of chapter heads, sections of the book are labeled “eighty-four days before” or “two days before” and then after it happens, sections are labeled “seven days after,” etc) as well as obvious foreshadowing.
Similar to reading “The Fault in the Stars,” I was placed in the position of knowing what was going to happen to these teenagers and realizing way before they did that their lives were going to get upturned in the worst way possible.
After the character dies, the others are faced with finding out about said death, and then taking it upon themselves to deal with it and piece together what happened to cause the death. Was it an accident? Was it suicide?
As Miles is the protagonist of the story, I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that he is not the one who dies. However, he takes the death very, very personally… and in his grief, he keeps blaming himself and making the whole situation about him even though he was only a very tiny part of the whole. I would get angry at Miles for acting so selfishly, but then be grateful when other characters would call him out on it.
I realized, though, that as much as I was angry with Miles, I was also angry with myself – because I could identify with him. I thought his actions were unbecoming, but felt worse when I saw myself in him and wished I didn’t.
It’s an odd thing, reading about a fictional character who shares similar traits with yourself or people you know. I try not to be selfish all the time, but I know sometimes I fail spectacularly. So, when Miles was going on and on and on about how the other character couldn’t have committed suicide because he himself was promised a continuation of a personal activity with the other character, I found myself telling him “Stop it. This is not about you.” But then I put the book down and realized I’ve done that too. (And here I am again… making this all about me. But, it’s my blog, so I think I’m kind of entitled to that.)
While reading, there were many lines from the book that stuck out, but I actually wrote one of them down. It’s from when Miles is letting off some steam and yelling at the person who has died. He said:
“You can’t just make me different and then leave.”
I thought this was as profound as it was selfish.
I mean, think about it… someone came into his life and made him a different person than who he was before meeting said someone. And then that someone was gone – never to return again. But Miles is still there… and he’s a changed person. But he’s a changed person because of that someone. But with that someone gone, will Miles remain the same changed person, or will he go back to who he was, or will he change again?
“You can’t just make me different and then leave.”
This line made me angry and sad all at the same time because it very simply states something I know I’ve always wanted to tell people who have fallen out of my life. It both acknowledges that the other person had a big enough effect on you to change you in some way and places blame on them at the same time. It’s a demand that can never be adhered to if the other person is already gone for good, or it’s a plea for someone who is still right there but on the verge of disappearing for now or for good. It’s a damn good sentence, that’s for sure.
John Green is going to ruin my life in the best way possible. Though his books are about people much younger than I, their stories are relatable and his words hit hard and deep. I aspire to write like that.