From Tracie: Every Character In Looking For Alaska Is Me

Monday, January 20, 2014

Every Character In Looking For Alaska Is Me

I have been reading more YA books lately. I am finding myself drawn to them, partly to find books for Katarina, and partly because I enjoy the really good ones. I find, when it comes to YA books, that I either love or hate them. There does not seem to be much in between.

Everyone seemed to be reading books by John Green in 2013, so I put myself on the library waiting list for The Fault In Our Stars. On a whim, I also signed up for Looking For Alaska; thinking it might be a story about people going to Alaska which is something I have always wanted to do.

I often read books without delving into the synopsis; it keeps life interesting.

Spoiler: Looking For Alaska has nothing to do with the state of Alaska. Or a road trip to Alaska. Or people who live in a cold place. Or polar bears.

Looking For Alaska CoverI read Looking For Alaska first, and The Fault In Our Stars a couple of weeks later. The Fault In Our Stars was good. But it was not Looking For Alaska. I held that fact against it.

I might be ruined for John Green books forever now, because I am not sure that anything he writes can possibly measure up to that book in my mind.

It isn't that Looking for Alaska is the most amazing book I have ever read, but Looking For Alaska felt emotionally truthful to me. Truthful in a way that most books are not. It was like Looking For Alaska cut me open, revealed everything inside of me, and then stitched me back up again. I am still thinking about it weeks later.

Every character in Looking For Alaska is me. The me I used to be when I was in those teen years, and maybe a bit the me I am now, at thirty.

I was Miles. Finding my way into friendships by accident. Not good at relationships. Knowing a lot of other people's stories, but having little of my own. Striving for more, for something great, without being able to define what it was. Loving the teachers that no one else liked, and often dreading being in the classes of teachers who were accepted as favorites.

I was Alaska. Mysterious, yet not so mysterious. Dropping hints about my pain. Disclosing stories during late night talks, fueled by the desire to truly connect, and emboldened by sleeplessness. Held apart from the group, yet sometimes giving it direction. Self destructive. Moody. A pain. Possibly something special, but not recognizing the important things that made me special; instead latching on to all the unimportant things.

I was both the one who knew too much about sex, and the one who knew nothing. I remember saying to a friend during a phone call when I was twelve, "What exactly is oral sex? I am assuming it is precisely what the name indicates, and I am not sure I'm very impressed by the idea."

I was Chip. Holding onto loyalty, maybe a little too firmly. The kid whose family wasn't rich in a school full of people who were.

I was the person who retreated into myself and shut people out.
I still am that person.

I was Takumi. Close to the center of the circle, but always on the outside. Sometimes knowing the missing piece of the puzzle. Sometimes not realizing that what I held was a puzzle piece.

Every character is me. I'm not sure if that says something about me. Maybe none of us are much more than our teen selves. Maybe all the maturity that we feel ourselves gain with age is really just a shroud we pull around our true selves as we strive to show the world a more composed and controlled us.

If we were to spend a day without those shrouds, it would probably the most honest moment the world has ever seen.

The plot was not something out of my teen years, and on the surface I probably had very little in common with the story. But as I saw myself again and again in the souls of the characters, I could not help but be drawn into their world. I felt every blow, every decision, every conversation, as if I was sixteen.

The relentless focus of the characters was so real. There is a point in the book where a big thing happens, and it takes over months of their lives. It means everything to them. When I look back at my teen years, they are divided into blocks of time just like that.

Blocks of time when I was focused on one specific thing. Whatever it was, filled my world and my focus to the exclusion of everything else. This is perfectly illustrated in my journals from those years.

I am slightly surprised to look back at those times and realize that whatever the tragedy or drama was, it usually only lasted for only a few weeks, because in the moment it seemed as though it lasted forever. Life changed so quickly. What was important changed so quickly. And it captured me. It filled my thoughts. Everything else that happened was in the shadow of whatever big thing was my focus during that block of time.

When I finished Looking For Alaska, I had to mentally shake myself, and remember that I am no longer sixteen. It felt that real. That level of realness and emotional honesty definitely set the bar high for any future YA reading I do.

Have you read Looking For Alaska, or any other John Green books?
Have you read a book where you saw yourself in the characters? I want to read it, too, and see if I find myself.


  1. I haven't read any of his books, but this review makes me want to put some on my to read list. The problem is that my to read list is so so long!

  2. I have one chapter left in The Fault in Our Stars. It is SO GOOD. I just ordered this one immediately. He is an amazing writer!-Ashley

  3. Looking for Alaska is on my reading list. I wonder if I will hold The Fault in Our Stars against it since I read that first and loved it so much?!

  4. Funny because I did think it was about Alaska and that might make me want to read it sooner, if so. I'll still read it, though!

  5. I am definitely going to have to check out these books!

    I think part of why I love the Outlander series so much is because I see parts of myself in Claire. And because I always wanted someone to love me the way Jamie loves her.

  6. Wow what an honest and moving quote. I didn't attach so closely with this book but it is interesting to see how much it mean it you

  7. This is exactly how I felt about it. I liked The Fault in Our Stars and A Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, but I LOVED Alaska. And I felt connected to all of the characters too.
    YA is so appealing to me I think because of my own flawed/missed/extended adolescence.

  8. I haven't, but I need to add him to my reading list. His books sound wonderful.

  9. I am adding this to my list! Thanks for sharing!

  10. My hubs bought me Fault in Our Stars for Christmas. I haven't read it yet, because I'm plodding through a "classic" because I opened my big fat mouth and told the world that I would read a classic once a month. Psh. Anyways. I'm so looking forward to delving back into my safe and fun YA waters. You're right, I either love them or hate them. And now I'll be putting Looking for Alaska on my list of books to read. Also, I was born and raised in Alaska, if that interests you :).