why i'm still looking for alaska

why i'm still looking for alaska

Nate started watching the Vlogbrothers’ videos a little bit before John Green’s book “Paper Towns” came out. He introduced me to the videos, and when the book came out, he insisted we buy it to support john. Ok. We did. Since I am more of a reader than Nate, I picked it up first and read it quickly. It was entertaining, sort of a mystery, with a lot of teenage truth. I liked it well enough – not to the level of Harry Potter like, but well enough. Eventually I started sorting through the Vlogbros’ videos, and noted his other two books, which I ordered at Nate’s requests.
I stumbled through “An Abundance of Katherines,” another teenage adventure with quirks, and a lot of truth.
Then I read “Looking for Alaska.” It was gorgeous: funny, beautifully written and honest. I quickly put it in my top fifteen books.
“The Fault in our Stars” just came out, and I just finished reading it today. I was really really hoping for another Alaska, but it fell just short. I couldn’t figure out what it was about his other books that fell so short, so I hunkered down to figure out why it is that “Alaska” is john green’s masterpiece – his magnum opus.
You begin to expect certain things of an author: when I pick up a J.K. Rowling book, I know I’m picking up a book that has magic in it – a fantastical, heroic story. When I pick up a Suzanne Collins book, I’m looking for something about post-modern society, dystopian, futuristic. When I pick up a Jennifer Weiner book, I know it’s going to be part chick lit, part literary. When I pick up a Jodi Picoult book, I want a trial in it. When I pick up a Bill Bryson book, I expect to laugh.
So it goes that when I pick up a John Green book, I’m expecting truth. His books are full of current day teenage truths – the hardships, the conversations, the self-consciousness, the awkwardness, the weirdness of first romances. It’s spelled out with complete, honest truth in his books. There is no holding back.
So when I read his books and these hard truths are contrasted with a somewhat unordinary plotline, it’s hard for me to swallow. What I read is that someone understands the truths of my teenage life (long past), someone understands what i’m going through, someone gets it…but I can’t quite relate because the plot is not entirely believable in an everyday teenager’s kind of way. So, do I take hold of this extraordinary story, or do I take hold of the truths that hitting me in the gut? Truth…or not? Why are they so hard to meld?
It’s a good question. The truths and the extraordinary are hard to combine in my mind. 17 year olds going on a road trip and getting employed over the summer on a whim? My parents would’ve put the kibosh on that asap. Skipping high school graduation to find your true love (who may or may not return the feeling) who ran away and left clues she didn’t want you to find in the first place? Again, parents, and police would’ve been contacted. Even his new one, while harsh truths are pulled and prodded and written about cancer, I feel that traveling to Amsterdam and finding the author of her favorite book were just a little too extraordinary in contrast to the truths (even if it was part of the make-a-wish foundation – although this wasn’t as hard to grapple with as the other two books. it was close to Alaska, but not quite there for me).
But Alaska?
Complete truths. Going to boarding school and participating in usual high school pranks, then the girl you fell in love with forgets her mother’s death’s anniversary and on the way to the graveyard dies in a car crash – and you have to sort through everything that comes with losing her? Believable, ordinary events melded with harsh, teenage truths.
There is nothing in the plot that takes away from life as it is; nothing about it transports you to an otherness of everyday life, a way of life that is just a little bit too unbelievable – “Looking for Alaska” is just 100% honest, humble truths.

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