Over the past decade, John Green has been one of the most prominent figures in young adult books. He has written and co-written 6 books, and all of them have made it to the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. His distinct writing style with young characters is seen throughout every single one of his books. John Green’s characters are typically sarcastic, romantic, and relatively pretentious. The books always focus around an ambiguous theme often relating to empathy or mental health issues. These ideas are seen in what may be his best work: Looking for Alaska.
Looking for Alaska tells the story of Miles, an introspective junior who is obsessed with the last words of famous people. He finds himself at a boarding school in Alabama, and while there, he meets two fascinating people: Colonel, his new roommate, and Alaska, an expressive, unpredictable, and emotional girl who seems larger than life. Alaska is obsessed with Simone Bolivar (His last words being “How am I ever to get out of this labyrinth”). The labyrinth in this case is life and suffering, and that is what much of the book is about: figuring out how to get out of the labyrinth of suffering. The characters must learn how to understand the mental and physical issues that they all are dealing with, whether it is relationship problems, depression, or anxiety. A huge part of the book revolves around the relationship between Miles and Alaska.
The relationship that forms between Miles and Alaska builds the story, but this book is so much more than a romance. Alaska is dealing with heavy depression, and Miles feels like an outsider, worrying about others’ opinions of him. The story follows them through their first semester until something tragic happens. The book changes from a cheery book about living at a boarding school (complete with pranks, copious amounts of school work, and drama) to something much darker. A new issue has arisen, and the main characters must deal with something much heavier than ever before. The majority of the second half of the book is about dealing with grief. The main characters have so many questions, and they don’t understand why bad things can happen to the people they are close to. This book tackles the great struggle of losing someone very near to you. It emphasizes how important it is to feel emotions.
This book is raw and real. Of course, the plot isn’t perfect; there are exaggerations, and many of the events would probably never happen in real life. I doubt many of the pranks in the story could ever work out the way they did, and many of the main characters are larger than life; however, the characters still feel real and personal. The struggles they face at 16 years old are issues many people at this age are dealing with. The book also stresses the importance of teenagers understanding that their issues are not minimal. Just look at one of my favorite quotes from Looking for Alaska:
When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.
This quote is so important for teenagers today. Often times, teens feel overshadowed by adults, and they feel like their issues are minimal due to the fact that there are worse things going on the world, but the issues those teens are dealing with are real. To think that teens are lesser simply because of their age is ignorant. Teens do have power, and they need not forget that.
This book is a fantastic story about grief and learning to keep going after hard events happen and how to grow from strife. Miles eventually learns the way out of the labyrinth.
Content warning: contains strong language, drug references, and other suggestive material.
Check it out here!
*written by Donny Turner