Pudge is a teenager with a not-so-interesting life prior to attending this boarding school in Alabama. Soon he was surrounded by teenagers who take on life passionately, recklessly, and fearlessly. Pudge made friends, whom he went on adventures and pulled ridiculous pranks with. And there was this girl, Alaska. She was mysterious and energetic, like a hurricane. Unexpectedly, Pudge found much of his life at his new school evolving around Alaska—her hilarious ideas, moodiness, and sometimes wild behaviors.
Through the twists and turns of Pudge and his friends’ time together, Looking for Alaska takes the readers on a somewhat confusing roller coaster ride. I found myself thinking “What’s going on??” a few times during the book. It’s a page-turner that you cannot put down until the mystery is solved at the end with the climax.
“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”
Alaska’s goal was to find a way out of the labyrinth of life. Sounds a bit ambitious for a teenager, doesn’t it? But she’s got a point here. Too many people are living for the future. Teenagers dream the day they are away from home in college; college students can’t wait to be done with school work for good; and working people live for the weekends. Everybody knows to enjoy the present, but it’s also so easy to begin thinking about how great an alternative situation would be when you get there one day. But the future, not to sound morbid, might never come for all you know. Have dreams, but don’t let them become merely hiding places from the present you are in now.
“That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.”
An ordinary teenager coming from a regular family, Pudge never thought that one day he would be robbed of something so precious to him and left struggling to piece his life back together. It’s such a frightening thought: something extremely important to you is irrevocably lost. And the worst part is, you never thought you would one day lose it. But life throws you curve balls sometimes. This might be the moment when Pudge grew up: realizing that, unlike glasses, there are things in life that he will lose and have to live without.
“I realized it in waves and we held on to each other crying and I though, God we must look so lame, but it doesn’t much matter when you have just now realized, all the time later, that you are still alive.”
I think being alive is one thing that we don’t realize enough. Happiness, sadness, loneliness, pain…we feel these emotions because we are alive. Things could be really tough sometimes, that’s for sure. But it’s worth simply realizing that anything you feel is a testimony to the fact that you are alive, and that alone is something to rejoice in.
“…we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.”
Pudge’s answer to Alaska’s request of surviving the labyrinth is to forgive. Forgive those who hurt you, and also forgive yourself for making mistakes because you couldn’t see the future. The “only if’s” and “should have’s” are haunting. Nobody can connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking back. A small action can result in a great turn of events. Alaska knew this, so did Pudge and the Colonel. And it turned out they weren’t the only ones. Hence forgive. Pudge realized that a better alternative to blaming others and beating yourself up is probably just to move on.
I’ve heard multiple people say, “I don’t usually read YA, but I do like John Green.” I might be one of them. There’s something about seeing these kids fumbling through their teenage years, hitting obstacles, and making mistakes. It reminds of my teenager years, and how the world used to seem to me and how it’s different now. People always laugh at their teenage years when looking back, joking about how embarrassing and silly they were. But those years play a more important role in shaping our years to come than we care to admit.
More of my favorite quotes:
“I never liked writing concluding paragraphs to papers—where you just repeat what you’ve already said with phrases like In summation, and To conclude.”
“Nothing’s wrong. But there’s always suffering, Pudge. Homework or malaria or having a boyfriend who lives far away when there’s a good-looking boy lying next to you. Suffering is universal. It’s the one thing Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims are all worried about.”
“If you take Alaska’s genetic code and you add her life experiences and the relationships she had with people, and then you take the size and shape of her body, you do not get her. There is something else entirely. There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.”
“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.”