Strolling through the labyrinth of life and afterlife

Grieve, if you must but then eventually you have to let go of everything that was once matter and now only memories. Eshwari Pathare reviews John Green’s acclaimed first novel ‘Looking for Alaska’ as she finds a thing or two about herself through the reading experience.

A young teenager Miles Halter “Pudge” in awe of famous last words trudges on a journey to find “Great Perhaps” and life stumbles him upon his greatest discovery – Alaska Young, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi Hikohito. A story of love, friendship and ‘teenage puddles’ evolves until the characters come face to face with death, self-conflict and the mystery of life after death.

First novel from bestselling and award-winning author John Green, ‘Looking for Alaska’ was published in 2005 and went on to win Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association in 2006. Considered new age and avantgarde, the book has the power to change one’s perspective towards the very foundation of morality, religion.

Based on the theme of grief, hope and search for meaning, ‘Looking for Alaska’ is symbolic in nature. The territory of Alaska lies beyond the American and Canadian borders even though it is a part of the United States. John Green targets the American audience who have shared or can relate with similar cultural ties or experiences. To them, Alaska is out of reach. Beyond the known boundaries. You’d have to cross the freezing North Pacific that meets the Arctic to get there. 

And that’s what Miles goes through. He and his friends undertake a journey to find Alaska, make sense of things that are beyond the known universe and end up undertaking a journey towards self-actualization. John Green manages to take us into a limbo – the thin veil between the living and the dead by affirming that no such veil exists. 

‘I still think that sometimes… “the afterlife” is just something we made up to ease the pain of loss, to make our time in the labyrinth bearable.’

With vivid unnerving scenes such as lights flickering out at a gas station and the protagonist Miles Halter wondering if Alaska is trying to play pranks and might show up; one would expect a sense of upcoming horror or supernatural reappearance of Alaska to her grieving friends. But John Green brings out the real horror by confirming our suspicions, our fan theories that she is indeed dead. 

Yes, you grieved. I grieved. Even the poor characters we so love, grieved. You know, it’s so hard to accept it, right? Hard to accept that Alaska died? To accept that someone we adore, died. And that is the real catch of this story. The real horror of the story. 

Instead of expecting ghosts, bats, graveyards, Green manages to dig in the grave of your mind, full of relatable experiences, knowledge with some new-found wisdom. A psychological revelation. 

Instead of hoping to at least get a whiff of Alaska, a character we all loved, we have to let go of her. Just like Miles. 

That is the thing about grief, just as the narrator describes:

“The way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small self-sufficient world in a back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home.” 

Because of the nature of the social setting where all the four characters especially Alaska are wild, adventurous, reckless and love pranking; there are multiple mentions of usage of narcotics and drugs for pleasure and fun. It did not have to be so obviously emphasized, especially for those readers who may not be able to relate because they have never experienced the feeling of getting high. 

However, there is a sense of interactive discussion with the readers about life and death that is beautifully described. There is also a talk of psychologist Carl Jung’s animism theory in reference to our soul being compared to energy, which then goes on to a discussion about sustainability and the idea of forever.

“What was her – green eyes, half a smirk, the soft curves of her legs – would soon be nothing, just the bones I never saw. I thought about the slow process of becoming bone and then fossil and then coal that will, in millions of years, be mined by humans of the future, and how they would heat their homes with her, and then she would be smoke billowing out of smokestack, coating the atmosphere… There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.”

It also talks about the power of letting go. We will forgive her for dying. We will hope that she’ll forgive us for letting go of her. And she has. For, “we are greater than the sum of our own parts”.

Do you still believe in a Great Perhaps? I still believe in a Great Perhaps. Because no matter whether Heaven or Hell, Karma or YOLO, I will fight any grief in life to keep myself going. Just like Miles Halter. And so can you.

Looking for Alaska can make your Sunday, if you like binge-reading. It would make your whole weekend, if you dare step into the wild and raw Alaska Young’s shoes. This is no ordinary tale. It is beyond the physical boundaries of this world. Looking for Alaska takes its readers on a journey towards a search for meaning, life and afterlife.

Looking for Alaska, a novel by John Green, published by Dutton Juvenile, 2005

Eshwari Pathare is currently a fashion communication student at NIFT Bangalore. Born in Mumbai, she always had a flare for writing, which is inspired by her travels around the world, and the stories, art & experiences she gathers. She also loves storytelling through photography. 

This essay was written for the ‘Creative Writing’ course at NIFT, Bengaluru.

Read more book reviews on Bengaluru Review :

A tale of two half-lives

Two parallel narratives bound by love

An obsessive quest into the ordinary mysteries of life



1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s