Getting a copy of this book felt like destiny. After weeks of going through book stores to score a copy of Looking for Alaska, one fateful day, I was able to chance upon a copy and did a little chicken dance in the bookstore while I was doing the Macarena inside. You should know though, this book has been out of stock for more than a month, and it only intensified my desire to read the book. It did not disappoint.
Ironically, I did not really anticipate that the heartbreak that would follow.
Miles Halter, with his unusual skill of knowing the last words of famous people, set out to a boarding school in search for the Great Perhaps. He head off to his new school where he had finally found friends and luckily, his Great Perhaps in his new friend, Alaska.
“So this guy,” I said, standing in the doorway of the living room. “Francois Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”
So then Miles became Pudge and he met his new roommate, the Colonel, and his two other friends, Alaska and Takumi.
We meet the new friends of Pudge who specialized on bad assery and mischief. They were the typical cool gang in high school, luring you into cigarettes, smuggled alcohol, and well, sex. I remember the TV series I have finished watching a few weeks before—Freaks and Geeks. With the lifestyle of these young people, they ought to be the Freaks, but then again, I found out that the Colonel is actually an academic scholar and Alaska is pretty good in Math. Other than being cool kids, they are also the geeks in the class. No wonder Pudge got sucked in the group easily.
One of my good friends told me she likes the Colonel more than Pudge. He was, again, cool. He was smart and poor and he had this knack for mischief, but he maintained his scholarship as well as his reputation for kicking ass once a year, in their annual prank fest.
“Hold on.” He grabbed a pencil and scrawled excitedly at the paper as if he’s just made a mathematical breakthrough and then looked back up at me. “I just did some calculations, and I’ve been able to determine that you’re full of shit.”
Then there’s Takumi, who was all good natured and whom I found really endearing in the end. We could pretty much say he’s the stereotype for the character in the group of friends is more or less the forgettable character, but really, you would just have to love him in the end.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she responded, not angry so much as dismissive. “I don’t understand why you’re so obsessed with figuring out everything that happens here, like we have to unravel every mystery. God, I it’s over. Takumi, you gotta stop stealing other people’s problems and get some of your own.” Takumi started up again, but Alaska raised her hand as if to swat the conversation away.
You’d think that Pudge is the central character in the story, but then you’d realize how crucial Alaska is.
It depressed me to know of a character such as Alaska. She was at the peak of her youth, she was gorgeous, she had her life ahead of her, but she wants on hurrying up to death.
“You smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”
Alaska swallowed a mouthful of French fries, took a drag on her cigarette, and blew a smoke at Hank. “I may die young,” she said, “But I’ll die smart. Now back to tangents.”
I loved Alaska. I loved every bit of her—her mood swings, fondness of books, her bad/smart-assery, and even her view on life. She was the character with whom the readers could identify with. Here came Pudge who set on his Great Perhaps journey and then he met a character as strong as Alaska, and you can just see him crumble and fall, succumbing to Alaska.
“Pudge.” She shook her head and sipped the cold coffee and wine. “Pudge, what you must understand about me is that I am a deeply unhappy person.”
Suddenly, I understand why Pudge falls into the character that is Alaska. Green has found the right term in describing her, an “event” even to herself.
Well, she had issues, and since the last millennia, it had always been a sure way to get attracted to a person. Pudge got himself wired in Alaska’s twisted views and he wanted to be that someone who could unravel the mysteries around her, who could make her change.
By today’s standards, he is a little too emotional, which makes him rare when all boys his age are busy polishing their macho façade. He was very much in love, and he was openly in love with Alaska, too. It was giddy, all right—seeing him all puppy-eyed on Alaska, hanging on to her every word, bordering on desperate to please her, while Alaska continues to toy around—and the way he noticed little things, gods, he’s adorable.
At 830, I turned off the game and scooted out from underneath Alaska. She turned onto her back, still asleep, the lines of my corduroy pants imprinted on her cheek.
There were headers that say __ days before. I had a bad feeling about this, really. I knew it was a countdown for the impending doom, but just a day before the event, Alaska and Pudge finally kissed. In the bottom of my heart, I knew Alaska was toying around. She was drunk, all right, but then again, you could not stop but be happy for Pudge, the little boy had finally kissed the lady of his dreams. I was a little hopeful for Pudge, but I braced myself for the After part of the book.
I remember stalling before reading the next part. I cleaned my room, checked my messages, and even wrote on my planner. Anything to keep me from finding out the impending doom to Pudge and friends.
Just when a tiny hope flickers for the love story cigarettes-wine-alcohol-mischief-in-the-making, the dream of Pudge slowly unfolding before him, Alaska had reached a dream of her own, her death.
I was in disbelief. I was hoping that it was a mistaken identity, that it was not Alaska who was caught in the car crash, but some other lady who borrowed or even stolen her car, just not Alaska. It was crushing and devastating. I felt like I was Pudge.
My heart broke.
Alaska had thought about death, in fact, too many times. She knew it was her ultimate end and she wanted to face it, head on.
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.
For a while, I hated Green for killing Alaska’s character. Man, that’s it? But I realized that he was just being faithful to the character that he created. No matter how ruthless it was, Alaska remained her usual uncaring self, and no, she did not love Pudge.
I hated her for not caring for me. I hated her for leaving that night, and I hated myself, too, not only because I let her go but because I had been enough for her, she wouldn’t have even wanted to leave. She would have just lain with me and talked and cried, and I would have just listened and kissed at her tears as they pooled in her eyes.
This was the time that my heart went out to Pudge. He had become this looming character, drowned in his own misery that the love of his life had left him. Much more, with a “To be continued” promise. He could not deal with her death, but really, could you blame him?
And now she was colder by the hour more dead with every breath I took. I thought: That is fear: I have lost something important and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like someone lost his glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.
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. I didn’t do that—instead I talked about why I thought it was an important question. People, I thought, wanted security. They couldn’t bear the idea of death being a big black nothing couldn’t bear the thought of their loved ones not existing, and couldn’t even imagine themselves not existing. I finally decided that people believes in afterlife because they couldn’t bear not to.
Pudge struggles to live with the fact that Alaska had passed on. Even upon her death, he wanted answers, which she had never given him when she was still alive, much more when she was dead.
“This is only making me hate her. I don’t want to hate her. And what’s the point, if that’s all that’s making me to do?” Still refusing to answer how and why questions. Still existing on an aura of mystery.
He laments on a lost lover, shattering my heart to even tinier pieces.
I lit a cigarette and spit into the creek. “You cannot just make me different and leave,” I said out loud to her. “Because I was fine before, Alaska. I was fine with just me and last words and school and friends, and you can’t make me just different and then die. For she had embodied the Great Perhaps—she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave my minor life for grander maybes, and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps. I could call that everything that the Colonel said and did “fine.” I could try to pretend that I couldn’t care anymore, but it could never be true again. You can’t just make yourself matter and then die, Alaska, and because now I am irretrievably different, and I’m sorry to let you go, yes , but you made me a choice. You left me Perhapsless, stuck in your goddamned labyrinth. And now I don’t even know if you chose the straight and fast way out, if you left me like this on purpose. And so I never knew you, did I? I can’t remember, because I never know.
Then he finally came to his senses, all thanks to the Colonel, reminding him that he was not the only one who lost a friend. Most of all, Pudge is never Alaska’s love. She would not break up with Jake no matter what, and Pudge should stop monopolizing the grief.
It was almost a happy ending. The three friends, after discovering the events that happened before Alaska’s demise, had surmounted a challenge in their friendship and were closer than before the events that have changed them.
Then the biggest irony of it all: Pudge never found out how Alaska’s last word.
Strange as it seem, I’d never really thought about why. “I don’t know,” I said, placing my hand against the small of her back. “Sometimes, just because they’re funny. Like in the Civil War, a general named Sedgwick said, ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant from this dis—‘ and then he got shot.” She laughed. “But a lot of times, people die how they live. And so last words tell me a lot about who people were, and why they became the sort of people biographies get written about. Does that make sense?”
Here was the danger in the novel: You meet two characters that were a little of the opposite of each other. Pudge was optimistic in his life, and you see that he has no reason not be. He had a happy family, supportive parents, and he had finally found friends. Then you meet Alaska, in the peak of her youth, but with an unhappy childhood. She was lonely.
You could choose to identify yourself with Pudge, but Alaska is a stronger character. You could feel being the attraction towards her, and that’s when you’d feel as depressed and as her.
Thank goodness for the little ray of sunshine that is Pudge.
I would never know her well enough to know her thoughts in those last minutes, would never know if she left us on purpose. But not-knowing would not keep me from caring, and I would always love Alaska Young, my crooked neighbor, with all my crooked heart.
When Pudge met Alaska, she challenged his last words skills with Simon Bolivar, a character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth. His last words were “Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” Then she answer Pudge’s question of what is the labyrinth with another question:
“That’s the mystery isn’t it? Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape—the world or the end of it?”
In which labyrinth are you trapped?
And as Pudge asked: What is your cause for hope?
“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 the future keeps you going, but never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”