THE BEFORE AND THEN the after. Two distinct realities experienced by Miles Halter (nicknamed “Pudge”), the protagonist, in Looking for Alaska. It is also the way that John Green has broken up the novel, starting off with Before and midway through the novel continuing with After. This can’t be explained further without spoiling the story.
Miles Halter is a loner and lives a pretty mundane and uneventful life in Florida with his parents and has an obsession with the last words of famous people. In fact, It is the last words of a poet Francois Rabelais “I go to seek a Great Perhaps” that propels Miles’ desire to experience something new that is not as predictable and mundane as his current life.
In pursuit of The Great Perhaps, Miles attends a boarding school away from home in Alabama and he meets his roommate “The Colonel” (Chip Martin) who is a short, fearless, math genius who
is always getting into mischief. Chip introduces him to Alaska who is beautiful, spontaneous, funny, very smart, petite, free spirited and exciting to be around. For Miles it is love at first sight and he becomes obsessed with Alaska and the mystery of her. But Alaska is also very troubled, scary and depressed as her emotions swing between moments of tearful outburst to times of withdrawal and absolute silence.
However, it is Miles’ relationship with Alaska and “The Colonel” that allows him to experience the “Great Perhaps,” as he throws caution to the wind and becomes a little less predictable and boring. He makes new friends and becomes involved in mischief that he never imagined he would be involved in. Mostly, Miles learns to be more impulsive and spontaneous due to the influence of Alaska.
Alaska would often entertain Miles’ obsession with last words. She tells him the last words of Simon Bolivar, a character from a favourite book of hers, his last words were, “Damn it,”…”How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” These last words become a central question in the novel, especially when something happens at the boarding school that changes Miles’ outlook on life forever.
This novel is an exploration into why people are the way they are and why people live their lives the way they do. It explores love, suffering, pain, loss, forgiveness and in some way hope and the will to continue.
As much as I loved Paper Towns, it just does not compare to the beauty of Looking for Alaska. When I first started reading Looking for Alaska I thought I was reading Paper Towns again, I was sort of having a “Same script different characters” moment. However, as I continued reading Looking for Alaska, I realized that I was wrong and the beauty and distinction of the novel really unravels nicely.This book is amazing and is so deep that I had to read it twice.
That being said, I an mot sure if the ending resolved a lot of the questions raised, although it would appear that was the intent. I understand that in some novels the intent is to leave questions unanswered, but in Looking for Alaska there seemed to be an effort made at summing up the questions raised in the novel at the end of the book. Although the end of the novel addresses and sufficiently answers some of the questions raised, I found the ending brought up new ideas, that in my opinion, were not raised throughout the novel itself. So at the ending, for me at least, there was a slight disconnect. Nonetheless, Looking for Alaska is an amazing read and no review of this book could do it the justice it deserves.
Quotes I liked (I liked a lot more but they unfortunately give the storyline away):
“I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating…if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
“I’d never been born again with the baptism and weeping and all that, but it couldn’t feel much better than being born again as a guy with no known past”
“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Looking For Alaska. I can sort of see why some parents would not want their kids to read this book. However, it only becomes an issue for those who are reading Looking for Alaska from a purely superficial standpoint and have totally missed the message that supersedes the controversy. Below is a video of John Green discussing the controversy.
Other Posts in the Series: Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth, Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth Part 2, Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth Part 3.