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.
I 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.