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Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking For Alaska

The various methods of escape in Looking For Alaska resonated within myself while reading the novel. The ongoing fascination of last words for Miles and Alaska’s interest in the labyrinth were deep provoking issues that are the heart of dealing with the unknown. The reoccurring probing of the religion class and the contemplation into the three major religions demonstrated one of the more common elements of escaping from pain and struggle. Even Marx’s critique of religion being the opiate of the masses seemed relevant for the students as they tried to come to terms with their friend’s death. The alcohol, poetry, and invigorated effort into school work (though at the final’s push) reminded me of my family’s multiple grieving strategies.
One of the reoccurring themes that Pudge gives us, as the narrator, is that of the various layers between people. These layers, for me, bring up a few ideas of the unison yet disunion between people and ideas. Theses paradoxes of the connectivity yet separation between people and ideas occurs in the variation of grieving methods, yet the one grief-laden death of Alaska, the multiple religious outlooks and their meaningful contributions to philosophy, and just the differences between Pudge, The Colonel, Takumi, and Alaska yet the friendship between them all.

Critically speaking, while I do not know much about the life of students in southern boarding schools, the narrative seems believable. The plot is sadly all too common; a tragic life cut short, abuse of alcohol, depression, and the various stages of grief and questioning that occurs. Along with the school setting, striking up of friendships and enemies, and the need to balance social life and school, this story offers adolescents a chance to think about some major, deep thought provoking questions that all people must come to terms with at sometime in their lives. However, that being said, this text could be difficult to difficult to discuss in a classroom without some people becoming offended or scared. Religion and death are difficult issues and inherently very personal. That being said, if done right, the discussions could be extremely fruitful.
            The countdown of before and after was an interesting touch. At first I noticed it, and paid attention to it. I also noticed the narrator using lists quite often and began to think about the interesting personality that he had, a very meticulous and organized teen. Eventually,  I started to ignore the amount of days left until the numbers dropped. I began paying attention again at the same time the plot reached a major turning point. After Alaska’s death I noticed that the after-the-fact countdown would often be followed by a countdown of other incidents (“a week after the discovery…” p.199)

Favorite quote: “I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to take this torch and burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God.” (p. 174)

1 comment:

  1. I think Looking for Alaska is good example of the grieving process in YA literature. As I read, I was reminded of the K├╝bler-Ross model of grieving, and was looking for those stages as I read. Though the bargaining stage was largest absent, Pudge could be seen going through the stages of denial, anger, depression, and acceptance (and one could argue that his ongoing quest to discover the cause of Alaska's death and to clear his conscience is a form of bargaining). Though using a prank as an outlet for grief and to commemorate the life of Alaska is not the most positive behavior, it is still a realistic means of coping.
    While a large number of YA books, such as the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or the Harry Potter series, deal with death, not many actually show the grieving process through to completion. Usually the long-term effects of grief are cast aside with a hand wave, and the character expresses initial sadness, goes to the funeral, and then moves on to the next plot point. In this book, that was impossible, since Pudge's relationship with Alaska was what was driving the plot. This book shows how grief can completely absorb one's life. Because of this, I believe it does a good job of capturing human emotion, and I think it is a good book to share with adolescents.