I had watched John Green’s Crash Course History series for years before realizing that he was an author of young adult lit. I realized this, probably along with many others, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I enjoyed that novel and the movie adaptation so, when I heard that his first book was celebrating its tenth anniversary, in my Amazon cart it went.
Like many young adult novels, Looking for Alaska is fairly short–221 pages. A weekend read or a Saturday read if it’s a slow Saturday. Miles Halter is an only child with no friends, an addiction to reading biographies, and a fetish for last words. He wants something more, the Great Perhaps that perhaps was part of Rabelais’ last words, and asks to attend his father’s alma mater, a boarding school in Alabama. He meets, of course, quirky characters, including his very poor roommate, the Colonel; Tamuki, the rapping Asian-descent second-tier friend; Lara, the cute Romanian girl with a prerequisite accent; and Alaska, the smoking-hot super-smart bad girl who, with the Colonel, drags him out of his humdrum life. There is tragedy. I have only read two John Green books, but if this is a regular motif, he is the Nicholas Sparks of young adult lit.
As an adult, I could not help thinking how much young adult lit had changed. Wifey was a scandal when I was a teenager. Are You There God It’s Me Margaret was iffy because it talked about bodily functions. Some of my girlfriends’ moms would not buy it for them and I had to loan them my copy. In Looking for Alaska characters have sex, there is a description of a blow job and a blow job tutorial, there is smoking, drinking, induced vomiting, and it is all routine. Perhaps because the people who are parents now grew up with parents who banned menstruation as a topic.
This was not a great, epic novel, but I appreciated the way Green talked about the struggle of what happens after someone you loves dies. The focus on their being nothing, then the biological process of decomposition, disillusion with accepted answers, then the formulation of something you can live with. Hopefully most young readers will not understand how on he was until long after they have read about Miles, the Colonel, and Alaska. One of my favorite lines was after Miles relates Meriwether Lewis’ last words–“I am not a coward, but I am so strong. So hard to die.” Green writes, “I don’t doubt that it is, but it cannot be much harder than being left behind.” One day, I suppose, we will all find out.