By Alexa Dumas
“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”
What is life’s great purpose? This is the question that Miles Halter wants to know. Nicknamed “Pudge” at Culver Creek boarding school in rural Alabama, the teenage boy moved from Florida in order to discover his purpose and “the great perhaps,” all before he heads off to college. There, he meets his roommate Chip “the Colonel” Martin, and becomes close friends with Takumi Hikohito and Alaska Young.
In John Green’s 2005 young adult novel “Looking for Alaska,” everyone at Culver Creek seems to have an interest in something unique: Chip can memorize anything, Alaska loves used books and Miles loves famous last words. The idea of “the great perhaps” comes from the last words of François Rabelais, a French Renaissance writer, who stated, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
Miles becomes infatuated with Alaska, as her eclectic personality is unlike anyone whom Miles has ever met. Alaska and Miles build a close friendship and they spend almost every minute together. That is, until Alaska is killed in a car accident, which sends Miles into a spiral.
The novel follows the theme of discovery. Miles wants to find out what his “great perhaps” is, while also grappling with how loss and grief can affect someone, especially an adolescent. Miles is on a mission to figure out where Alaska was going when she decided to go driving the night she died. This mystery propels him to discover aspects of Alaska that he didn’t know about or didn’t consider.
“Looking for Alaska” is purely adolescent, as Miles is trying to figure out who he is as an individual, while also grieving the loss of a close friend. Identity is a strong theme within young adult literature, and “Looking for Alaska” is no different. Green uses Alaska as a contrast to Miles, since Alaska has her own distinct identity, while Miles is pining at how he wants himself to be perceived.
As Miles struggles with the loss of Alaska, he must gain peace by finding himself and his “great perhaps.” Although it is up for the reader’s interpretation, looking for what Alaska left behind is the only way he can move forward.
It may be surprising, but Green’s novel is fourth on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019” list. The book has been banned or challenged almost every year consecutively from 2008 to 2019 and it was the sixth most banned book in 2016.
The young adult novel has been censored due to sexual explicitness, offensive language, substance use and being unsuited for the intended age group.
The most notable reason why “Looking for Alaska” is censored is due to a scene where Miles and a side character partake in sexual activity. However, it lasts only a page and a half.
Parents have complained about the novel’s language and use of “pornography” for over a decade. The novel has been challenged in Idaho, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and even in New York. Most schools responded to these complaints by sending permission slips home for parental consent.
Even though the novel has been subject to censorship, the themes within “Looking for Alaska” allow readers to think about their own identity and what loss can do to an individual. The novel is hilarious at times, but also pulls at your heartstrings as you imagine what life would be like without one of your closest friends.
“Looking for Alaska” is enjoyable to read. Although “Looking for Alaska” was published first, Green’s other novel “Paper Towns” almost follows the same theme: a nerdy teenage boy tries to find his own identity while discovering the true life of a quirky girl who he is not only infatuated by, but attracted to.
In comparison, “Paper Towns” is a more captivating read, while “Looking for Alaska” is full of complexities and existentialist thinking, which may not be as enjoyable for readers who want a simpler novel to enjoy.
However, “Looking for Alaska” is a novel meant for contemplation, more than the standard young adult novel. Green seems to want readers to think about their legacies as they start to reach adulthood, which isn’t what may be expected to come from Green’s writing.
The novel seems like an easy read, but makes you think about life and everything that goes along with it. “Looking for Alaska” is the embodiment of a young adult novel, and more young adults should read it to consider what their “great perhaps” is.