31 March 2011

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

Miles Halter has chosen to go to boarding school to finish out the remainder of 
his high school education. He isn't leaving much behind except for his parents 
who love him. He is leaving so little behind that he describes his reason for 
leaving in this manner: "I go to seek a Great Perhaps" ~François Rabelais's 
last words. Last words...they happen to be something that Miles is drawn to 
and he has a propensity for memorizing them.

Miles makes some friendships pretty quickly upon arriving at his new boarding 
school. It seems as if there was a spot there awaiting his arrival. Chip is Miles' 
new roommate. Chip's friends, Alaska, Takumi and Lara, readily accept Miles' 
presence and the nickname Chip bestows upon him: "Pudge".

(There is a major plot element that I am going to attempt to avoid so that I do 
not give away the story line.)

Pudge and Chip, by the end of the book are looking for some answers that 
are hard to find. A teacher they have grown to really care for assigns them 
final paper for his world religions class. The assignment is: 

    "How will you-you personally-ever get out of this labyrinth 
    of suffering? Now that you've  wrestled with three major religious    
    traditions, apply your newly enlightened mind to ******'s question.

    And so that is the question I leave you with in this final: 
    What is your cause for hope?"

The "labyrinth of suffering" are part of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's last words (according to the story line and according to some actual accounts): 

    "Damn it, how will I ever get out of the labyrinth!"

The final pages of the book close with Chip's final paper. It was a touching tribute to more than what was taught in his class. It was written having experienced a life-changing event and is, at least in part, his response to that as well as what he hands in to his professor. 

This is a part of that paper and my favorite part of the book:

    "...awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we   
    believe ourselves to be. When adults say, "Teenagers think they are 
    invincible" with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know 
    how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can 
    never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because 
    we are. ...that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannon begin
    and cannot end, and so it cannot fail."

To tell the truth, this is another example of a book I would not have chosen to read if I'd known what it was going to be about. I bought the book simply because it was written by John Green and I enjoyed his book "An Abundance of Katherines". In the end, I am glad I read it; glad enough that I would like to assign it to our two teens as part of their summer reading if they aren't too busy with their summer school classes. "Looking for Alaska's" major plotlines are ones that I feel merit discussion by teens and parents. 

My favorite lines from the book are:

     "More than anything, I felt the unfairness of it, the inarguable injustice of loving   someone who might have loved you back but can't due to deadness, and then I leaned forward, my forehead against the back of Takumi's headerest, and I cried, whimpering, and I didn't even feel sadness so much as pain. It hurt, and that is not a euphemism. It hurt like a beating.
This book has strong, mature themes. I would not recommend it prior to high school.

A film adaption is due to be released in cinemas in 2013.

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