Plot: Miles “Pudge” Halter memorizes the last words of famous people. His obsession leads him to a boarding school in Alabama in search of what Francois Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps”. There he meets Alaska Young, who is sexy, clever, unpredictable, self-destructive and the undisputed master of school pranks. She steals his heart and makes him question everything he has ever known about life and death.
John Green continues to dazzle me with his simple and beautiful mastery of words but this book is very different from An Abundance of Katherines. It is less funny (though with a similar nerdy obsession with trivia) but much more profound and infinitely more heartbreaking. I cried my heart out. I mean seriously, he made me cry with a passage that include the words “instant rice” and “pudding”:
What is an “instant” death anyway? How long is an instant? Is it one second? Ten? The pain of those seconds must have been awful as her heart burst and her lungs collapsed and there was no air and no blood to her brain and only raw panic. What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minutes, instant pudding and hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous. (Looking for Alaska p. 146)
As you can probably tell from the above passage, this is a novel about suffering and about death; it is about the ways in which people deal with these things or fail to deal with them. The structure of the novel perfectly captures the idea of loss and the way it changes the lives of those left behind. And Miles’ obsession with the last words of famous people, besides being interesting, fits perfectly with these themes. I completely understand why this book is taught in schools (I wish it could have been taught at my school but that was way too long ago and in French): it makes you think about important issues, it teaches history and literature, religion and philosophy and all without ever bogging down the story. But ultimately the reason why you care (the reason why you sit up late at night frightening your cat with your sobbing… or was that just me?) is because the characters and the setting are just so real. You laugh, cry, fall in love, get angry, get even and you forgive with Miles and his friends. This is a beautiful book that really deserves its Prinz Award.
The John Green marathon continues with Paper Towns. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the following video, John Green revisits the high school that inspired Culver Creek Boarding School. I feel like I’ve been there before, it’s eerie:
Challenges: Into the Old World Challenge (24)