By: Alexa Ramirez
*Warning: contains spoilers
I didn’t think I cared much about ‘Looking for Alaska’ until I was coming across its last pages. I first encountered this book when my friend told me she was reading it, and I thought the smoke filled cover looked cool. She had recommended it to me and I ended up finding and buying it at a buy one get one half off sale at Barnes and Noble.
Looking back on that small action, I can’t believe I hadn’t known just how powerful this book’s hold would be on me.
The book takes place at a boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama, where a very bright group of 4 high school kids, that come from many different places, and social classes (who would technically be considered outcasts), live at the school and go on many adventures in their time there.
In the story, the main protagonist, Miles, who comes from a life of mediocrity in Florida, falls in love with the mysterious and unpredictable Alaska, the only girl in their group. The book follows their romance through thick and thin, as well as his journey with Takumi, the Colonel, and Laura, the other three members of their group, while they show him the complete opposite of what his life was in Florida.
In most of the books I’ve read, the takeaways are all very similar; all including lessons about how to better enjoy the life that we as humans lead here on earth. But a lot of my questions don’t include any of that. Obviously, I do live with the human curiosity most have about how to live life to what they consider its fullest, but since I was young, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t had some kind of curious realization about life after death. For a long time it has been something that has scared me, and in all honesty, after reading the book it definitely still does, but now for different reasons.
In the book, Alaska struggles with many things. Her upbringing caused her to grow with a struggle with irrational decision making, impulsiveness, and arguably suicidal thoughts. She also (among many others at the school) struggles with a drinking and smoking addiction. All of these were causes of her death in the story when she drunkenly got in a car crash that the Colonel, one of her closest friends at the school, believed to have been a suicide. This left them all to cope with a loss that weighed an unimaginable ton on them all and inevitably raised the question of what happened to her after death.
This provided me not only with answers to many of my questions, but many new questions of my own. I grew up with the fear that if someone in my life died, I would never be able to cope and would live a miserable and clouded rest of my life. But this book really proved that although grief isn’t something linear, it is periodic. Though it took Miles and friends weeks to even comprehend her death, it was evident that it didn’t destroy them. They continued their studies, some even studying how it was that she died, and growing together from all of this.
One of my favorite of Miles’ quotes was “She didn’t leave me enough to discover her, but she left me enough to discover the great perhaps.” It really showed me how much he wanted to know her, and how he was not getting to do that really doubled his grief. This quote really showed me how much Alaska’s death matured him, and concludes the internal conflict he faced throughout the whole story.
This “great perhaps” that he was seeking throughout the story really mirrored and brought into the light something very common for teenagers and anyone struggling with their mental health. I think for a lot of teenagers (myself included) or people in general, we all become very guilty of chasing this life of constant excitement and productivity which is something that in a healthy way, can arguably be good for a person’s motivation. But for many, it can quickly become an unhealthy hyper focus that really just clouds us of all the good things that really are happening all around us.
I think the life of mediocrity, that was his life in Florida, was something hard for him, but when all the grief was going on at the boarding school, it became something comforting to look back on. I think the constant sense of wanting more really stood in the way of him enjoying his life in Florida and is what pushed him to try to start over his life. In my opinion, Alaska being his door to the long awaited “great perhaps” and that all of a sudden being ripped away was a crucial part of his development, and a crucial part in the life of any reader who shares this mentality.
This book helped me realize that a life without mediocrity will never be caused by a person, a place or one specific event. The great perhaps is the way you view the things that happen to you; it’s all internal. This book led me to believe that the great perhaps is anything you do with intention that gives all of the big things and little detail of your life purpose.
A final important thing the book taught me was how important diversity of religion can play into someone’s perspective on life. In the book, Miles takes a religion class taught by an older teacher who he looks up to as a mentor, and the main three religions they learn about are Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Many of the stories he learns from these religions provide good perspectives on life that I hadn’t heard prior to reading the book. At one point, he read a Sufi story that goes against many peoples ideas of heaven and hell and how getting into either can become really transactional. It backed up the book’s essential effect on me about how crucial intention is, and that no matter what religion or spirituality, practicing with intention will give you back the most in return without you even knowing it.
Another interesting point he took from the Buddhist, was the story of Banzan and the main takeaway is that there is no best or worst, there only is what there is and after realizing that he grew enlightened. This point was especially striking to me because although I agree with a lot of Buddhist ideas, this wasn’t one of them, but I appreciate being able to read and expand my perspective to different ideas, something key to growing from reading.
These are all just a few reasons that contributed to my love for this book. But they were examples I thought were important for an outsider’s perspective to get a clue into how strategic and smart I think John Green’s writing was when writing this book. A recurring theme in this book that I took away from the story was intention, and I think that is truly the best way to describe the writing. Intentional. It was carefully thought out and put together, and although I just spoiled most of it, I really recommend allowing this book to impact you as a reader the way it impacted me.