Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska made me think about death, and what happens after we die. And it made me think about the ways in which emotional pain can be as deadly as physical pain. It made me think about my friend who studies religion and has expressed some of the same ideas as Green (who also studied religion). It also made me think about belonging, and what it meant to me as a teen, and what it means to teens I know. It made me think about what, exactly, home is.

The narrator is Miles, a high school junior, who goes away to boarding school. There, he meets a group of friends, the first group of friends he's had in his life. In his old school he was an outcast, but the sense of belonging he feels at this new school triggers a lot of growth in him. This reminded me of a boy I know, who was an outcast in his previous school, but is now thriving, with a group he belongs to, in a different school. Sometimes small changes can change an entire life.

Miles' group of friends is what many parents would consider "the wrong crowd."

But for Miles, it's the right crowd, because although they introduce him to "booze and mischief" as well as smoking and sex, all of which contribute to the constant threat of expulsion dangling over their heads, they understand him. They look at him, and they see Miles, who he really is, and they accept him. This matters so much more to him than whether the people who include him are "good kids" or "bad kids."

The sun around which the rest of the group revolves is Alaska, a girl with so much charisma that everyone seems to be at least a little bit in love with her. Alaska is impulsive and reckless, as well as troubled, and she barely shares the source of those troubles with her closest friends. In the end, knowing Alaska is the greatest source of pain Miles has encountered in his life, but it's also a catalyst for his personal growth, for him to start forming his own values and viewpoints and interests, beyond the main interest he arrived at the school with: last words of famous people.

I really can not recommend this book strongly enough. I've found a new favorite writer.

Here's a videoletter to his brother that Green made when Looking for Alaska was being challenged. It is the best censorship rant ever.

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame." Oscar Wilde

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