This is the first novel that I am reading for Mental Health Awareness Month that was suggested by the Penguin Teen. I have never read a John Green novel before, but I have seen The Fault in Our Stars movie and I know how much I cried during that one and the emotional turmoil that occurred in the movie, multiplied it by 10 and decided that that was probably what I would feel during Looking for Alaska.
The book is told from the point of view of Miles "Pudge" Halter as he starts his junior year of high school at Culver Creek Boarding School. He figures that this is a place that he can start over and make his life something special; he is looking for the "Great Perhaps."
His roommate is Chip "the Colonel" Martin, also a junior. The Colonel takes Pudge under his wing and shows him around, introducing him to Alaska Young, "the hottest girl in all of human history" (p. 14). Alaska doesn't have a filter; loves sex, alcohol and smoking; and has very eradicate behavior.
The book is split into Before and After, Before being before everything changed, and After being after everything changed. In Before, we learn about the pranks that were played, the fun that was had, the challenges each of the students had in their own lives, and how although Alaska could be very forthcoming, not many people knew a lot about her.
Then Alaska dies in a car accident, or she kills herself, we never know. After is spent with Alaska's closest friends trying to figure out what really happened that night. They call her boyfriend, talk to the police officer who was on the scene, and replay the night over and over in their heads. Every memory the remember of her only causes them to question even more if it was an accident or did she plan it.
Although we never know, they think they figure out why she was upset that night and why she got in the car to begin with, and can leave school with some peace that maybe everything will be okay now.
What I Liked
- Despite it being held at a boarding school, the kids that the story focuses on are not snobs, or Weekday Warriors as they are referred to by the Colonel. They all have problems to work through, and the problem isn't waiting to be able to access their trust fund.
- It felt so real. Maybe it's because I've had that friend that doesn't open up to me, and I only knew the snippets of their life that they were willing to share, and I've had to watch them fall apart and not know how to help. Or maybe it's because I have been there myself, where I closed off the world and only shared the details I thought were necessary. But I can empathize with every character.
- The Fellatio Fiasco had me in tears from laughter, which I needed knowing that I was getting closer to the sad part. That is the stuff of every teenagers nightmare. If Pudge was my friend, I'd never let him forget that.
What I Didn't Like
- Nothing, I loved the book. I thought it was extremely accurate and illicited strong emotion from me.
This book perfectly paints what depression is like. Although the characters didn't register that Alaska was in anyway severely unhappy, the feelings that Alaska carried around with her after her mothers death affected the way she lived her life. She has carried this guilt around since she was a child, and her behavior was a very obvious sign when you're reading about it secondhand. To her friends, she was just occasionally moody and didn't want to answer who, what, where, when and why questions. She and the Colonel had known each other since they were freshman, but he had only just learned that her mother was dead. She drank like it was going out of style.
To someone right there on the front line, it's not clear, that was just the Alaska they knew and loved. But being someone who has been there and watched loved ones be there, I could see what was happening as it happened.
Dealing with the death of a loved one, especially one that was unexpected and may have been suicide, that's not ever going to be easy. There aren't classes that you can take to make it easier. Everyone grieves differently and at a different pace. I knew that my Grandma Peterson was going to die, we went to the hospital to visit her; I was 10 years old. When I was 18 years old and graduating, it hit me that she wasn't around to see it. I don't remember what even made me think of it, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had to mourn her loss all over again, this time as an adult with a better understanding of death. Death, when expected, is hard enough. This book beautifully illustrates what unexpected death feels like.
I don't think Alaska meant to kill herself. Should she have been driving? Hell no. But do I understand why she was driving, regardless of the fact that she was inebriated and hysterical? Yes. And although I wouldn't wish what happened to Alaska on my worst enemy, I know that she found peace. I wish she could have opened up more to Pudge or the Colonel or her boyfriend, anyone. I wish that Takumi or Pudge or the Colonel didn't let her get in the car and drive away. I'd like to hope that in that situation, I wouldn't have let me friend get behind the wheel.
There is no shame in suffering from depression, or any other mental illness. But please, reach out to someone. And if someone tells you what they are going through, don't alienate them or tell them they are overreacting, just listen and ask them what they need. You can always go to the National Alliance on Mental Health website, where there are tons of resources for both people suffering with a mental illness and loved ones trying to help.
Genre(s): Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age
Would I Recommend It?: Yes, an amazingly powerful read!