Saturday, January 08, 2005

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

I laughed. I cried. I finished this novel feeling at peace.

John Green has written an amazing novel that beautifully explores hope; grief and forgetting; guilt and forgiveness; and ultimately forgiving for forgetting. The book was written for a young adult audience, but the heady, philosophical subject-matter beneath the plot would be appealing to readers of all ages. I got my hands on an advanced-reader's edition, so I'm not sure what the laws are about quoting from the book, but I may have to throw in at least one of the many powerful lines that will linger with me far long after setting this book down.

The main character is on a spiritual quest of sorts throughout the plot of the book. I consider myself a spiritual person, but not particularly religious. I appreciated the main characters exploration of multiple religions as part of this quest. Included in the novel is a nice story relayed that is attributed to the Sufists:

"A woman... was seen running through the streets of her hometown... carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When someone asked her what she was doing, she answered, "I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise, so people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God."

The heavy questions about life were nicely balanced with entertaining stories of the woes of adolescence - drinking for the first time, adolescent pranks, discovering one's sexuality, making friends.

There is, of course, a main event in the book where the plot climaxes. My partner S, tragically, had lived through a very similar experience while in college and it was this similarity that brought the book to our attention initially. But even without the extra desire to get a glimpse into what she may have been thinking on that same day in her own life, this book stands alone as a well-written, source of inspiration. I wish I could say I'd written this novel myself (though the two I've started remain unfinished in files in my apartment). John Green succeeds in doing what I try to do everyday - he brings hope and humor into the human experience that is suffering.

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