Saturday, March 1, 2014

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Published in 2005
Realistic Fiction

John Green's Looking for Alaska is a novel about Miles Halter who leaves his home in Florida to attend the Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama. His father attended the same boarding school when he was Miles' age, and before his parents drop him off, his dad warns, "Don't do anything stupid. . . .No
Miles' goal in life.
drugs. No drinking. No cigarettes" (Green, 7). As an alumnus of the boarding school, Miles' father "had done the things I had only heard about: the secret parties, streaking through hay fields (he always whined about how it was all boys back then), drugs, drinking, and cigarettes. . . .[H]is badass days were now well behind him" (Green, 7).

When I read the introduction to this book, I couldn't help but think, why on earth would a father send his son away to a boarding school that he knew might be unsafe? You would think his personal experience at the school would have made him cautious enough not to send his son into a situation where he might make the same mistakes he did. Even though this book is fiction, I thought Miles' father's error in judgement was unconscionable.

The book is divided into two parts: before and after. The story begins "one hundred thirty-six days before" something happens; the second half of the book is about what happens "one hundred thirty-six days after" this event. The way the book is structured creates suspense. I had to continue reading just to find out what was going to happen; however, I didn't know that this "event" would be a turning point in the story and would have a major impact on all the characters involved. I assumed that this "event," whatever it was, would occur at the end of the novel.

Soon after arriving at Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate Chip "The Colonel" Martin, who nicknames him "Pudge," even though he is tall and thin; Alaska Young, Chip's female friend; Takumi Harihoto, a Japanese exchange student; Lara Buterskaya, a Romanian immigrant; Mr. Starnes "The Eagle", the dean of Culver Creek; and Dr. Hyde, the teacher of his World Religions class at school. Before long, Miles begins to understand what his father was warning him about. Miles' is instantly attracted to the beautiful but rebellious Alaska who smokes and drinks heavily and encourages him to do so as well. A battle begins between the "Weekend Warriors" and the regular students at the school, and soon Miles is drawn into compromising situations that could endanger his life.

Miles is hazed as an act of revenge toward his roommate and things begin to get out of control; he is taken from his room, tied up with duck tape, and thrown into a nearby lake where he almost drowns. One hundred
thirty-six days into the story, Alaska is killed in a tragic car accident, and Miles questions whether he is to blame or whether it was suicide. The story reveals both The Colonel and Alaska come from difficult and troubled backgrounds. Alaska dies a day after the anniversary of her mother's death, which took place when she was eight. It's obvious that drinking played a role in the tragic accident.

The next morning, all the students are called into the gym and are told about Alaska's death. I found the second part of the book rather boring and disappointing. After building up to the climax of the "event," the characters struggle to deal with what has happened. I felt the ending of the book leaves the reader hanging; there is no real closure to the story.

Green's book is realistic in its portrayal of young people who have no purpose or direction for their lives, and it reminded me of a tragedy that happened in my school when six of my fellow classmates were killed because they had been drinking, doing drugs, and illegally drag racing on a road near my home. I will never forget the parents who lost both their boys, twins, in the tragic accident. This event had an impact on our entire school, and I know I will never forget it.

While reading this book, I was also reminded of a tragedy that happened at a high school in the county where I taught in Tennessee. Four teenagers were out drinking; the driver lost control of the car and slammed into a tree. Two of the boys were killed
instantly and one was paralyzed for life and suffered brain damage. The driver was blamed for the accident and was sued by the survivor's parents, even though all the boys were drinking and were responsible for what had taken place. The tragedy created controversy in our community as people took sides over who was responsible for the accident, even though all the boys had made a conscious decision to get into the car that night. Ironically, I felt sorry for the driver because everyone was placing the entire blame on him; this wasn't fair. What a heavy burden to place on a young man who made a terrible mistake and lost three of his closest friends.

Like Green's The Fault in Our Stars, I found this book rather depressing. I found it to be a solemn reminder of what can happen when young people have no purpose or direction for their lives, do not have a stable family environment, and become involved in risky behavior. Although the book is interesting and an easy read, I just can't understand why any young person would want to read this book. Green's book is a far cry from the classic literature students used to read in school. If this is the best we have to offer our young people, shame on us.

I may die young, but at least I'll die smart?

John Green's Website
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1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading this today. While it didn't "speak" to me, I can understand why it very popular among a certain group of teens. The ideas of being independent (no parents), leaving your boring life behind, and the smart kids getting even the rich popular kids are attractive, and what we all probably longed for in high school.