**Warning: This review contains spoilers.**
This is not my first John Green book. A few months ago, after hearing endlessly about Green, I picked up Will Grayson, Will Grayson—and I just wasn’t that impressed. It wasn’t terrible, but it was too unbelievable. Too sappy. I didn’t understand. What’s so great about John Green?
And then I read Looking for Alaska.
Looking for Alaska is, without a doubt, one of the best Young Adult books I’ve ever read. I finished it a few days ago, but I’ve been putting off the review because I’m not sure how to do it justice. (And I definitely haven’t.)
Going into the book, I knew very little about it. The synopsis was vague: all I knew was that it involved a boy named Miles (nicknamed “Pudge” by his new roommate, The Colonel) who goes off to boarding school and falls in love with an enigmatic girl named Alaska. And “afterward, nothing is ever the same.”
Well, “afterward” turns out to be Alaska’s very sudden and unexpected death.
I knew that there was going to be an Event—the narration counts down to it—-but it is astounding to me that I was too dense to guess what it was going to be. “Death” is everywhere in this novel—in Pudge’s religion class, in his obsession with last words. (Of course, life, too, is everywhere.)
One night, Alaska enters her dorm room in drunken hysterics, insisting that she needs to leave campus immediately. Pudge and the Colonel let her go without a fight. The next day they find out she’s been killed in a car accident. Wracked with guilt for letting her go, Pudge and the Colonel try to figure out the details of her death. Had it been a suicide? Why had she been so upset?
I’m not normally very affected by characters’ deaths in books—Dumbledore’s is the only one that comes to mind (I cried)—but Alaska’s death really hit me hard. I was getting to know her along with Pudge. Her love of books, her strange talk of despair and escape from “the labyrinth of suffering,” and her sudden mood swings made me want to know more. What was in her past? What troubled her? I was annoyed by her drama and enchanted by her mystery all at once. And when she died, I couldn’t believe it. She was just gone—never again to grace us readers with her appearance within the pages of the book. Never again to divulge a crucial piece of her past during a drunken night in a barn on school grounds.
Looking for Alaska made me think about loss. What happens after death? What’s the meaning of all this suffering? These are questions I’ve asked many times, and I’ve always reach a stalemate and given up. But I feel as though I came to some sort of peace with death along with Pudge. There will always be unresolved questions about life and death, but we don’t always have to feel unresolved in our hearts. Pudge learns to forgive Alaska for leaving him, and he comes to believe that Alaska has forgiven him, even from beyond the grave.
My favorite bit of insight gleaned from Looking for Alaska is the following: that Alaska was more than just her body, or the memories she left in people’s minds, or the effect she had on people. She was all of those things, but she was something else, something specifically Alaska. And that part of a person can survive even death.