So my cousin’s girlfriend lent me a copy of John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” a few weeks ago and I decided to finally read it…cause it’s rude to hold onto people’s books, they could be missing them (Yes, I believe books have feelings! Don’t judge me!). Honestly I wasn’t expecting much going into it – in order to make sure the book didn’t fall below my expectations.
***If you have NOT read the the book, please click away NOW. I WILL be mentioning happenings that are critical to the plot of the story. Don’t blame me for SPOILERS!!!***
In high school everyone wants to be a bit like Alaska. Center of attention, likable without being condescending, the girl of every guy’s fantasy, smart, witty, adventurous, edgy/dangerous, an uncanny way of making you see mundane things in a new light…but the problem with these idealized high school figures there’s always some flaw that cannot be discounted. My sophomore year of high school we lost one of the friends in the group. He was nothing like Alaska. Sure there were some parallels- he was well liked by every crowd/”click” in school, smart, and had a very unique perspective – “Have you every noticed how when you stare off in class those little specs seem to have a halo effect around them? It’s almost like they glow.” He was one of the most caring, compassionate, and humble human beings I have ever known. But like Alaska he was a “deeply unhappy person”, something I often wish we would’ve noticed. The day after he committed suicide our entire sophomore class was called to gather into the cafeteria, much like in the book. I remember noticing that he hadn’t showed up to school that day and thought he might be sick. I thought it was odd, he was never sick, but quickly dismissed it. Once we were told the majority of the class broke down, sobbing aloud and turning to one another for comfort. I remember just being shocked. Not believing that this could’ve happened. I wandered around school aimlessly for the rest of the day. Not really sure if I believed it or not. When our school brought in grief counselors for our group I remember being angry. Angry at the thought that in on brief hot moment he could have ended his own life. Angry that I had to listen to people who barely knew him cry as if they were his best friends. Angry that I’d no longer have my friend.
When reading a book I feel that it is best to connect with the character, but not always necessary. Often times reading is a cathartic art. The way we can release feelings that we have hidden away in that dark quiet place in our minds. But for young readers, these type of stories, are their way of learning and understanding these life defining moments. That is what John Green has been doing with his books. I’ve watched and listened to my students as they have read these books and what they think of these experiences. As a middle school teacher, I know the majority of my students are not mature enough to fully comprehend the weight of this type of loss. Some are, but not all. Yet it is important for them to be exposed to this genre of literature. Maybe if we’d read something like this growing up we would’ve been more prepared to loose our friend. Yet ultimately, I don’t think we would’ve ever been ready for that.