You may recognize John Green from his extensive involvement in YouTube content creation along with his brother Hank Green. In addition to establishing his status as an online media personality, Green is also an award-winning author behind such beloved novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down. He made his debut as a writer with the publication of his first young adult fiction novel, Looking For Alaska.
After finding it difficult to fit in with the rest of his peers at school, referring to those times as unbearable, John Green would transfer to Indian Springs School where he would go on to form new relationships and memories. In Looking For Alaska, Green incorporates the story of his own life into the character of Miles Halter, and offers a learning opportunity for his high-school audience about the struggles of youth during coming-of-age.
Labyrinth of Suffering
Miles Halter is fascinated with the dying last words of famous individuals. After transferring to Culver Creek Preparatory High School, Miles befriends his roommate Chip Martin, Takumi Hikohito, a hip-hop enthusiast, and Alaska Young, an intelligent yet rash girl. After divulging his obsession with famous last words, Alaska reveals to Miles the Venezuelan leader Simón Bolívar’s final utterance in the face of death: “Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”
The two make a deal. If Miles can uncover what the labyrinth means and how one can escape it, she will set him up with a girlfriend; clearly, as is tradition for teenagers.
Over the course of the story, Miles grows closer to Alaska. When the four of them celebrate their school pranks around a campfire, it is revealed that Alaska’s impulsive and unpredictable behavior is due to her mother’s death, an event that Alaska blames herself for. It was at this moment that Miles realizes that the labyrinth he had been seeking to understand was, in fact, a person’s own suffering as they struggle to navigate their way out of the maze. Each young individual may encounter their own personal labyrinth, one that they must overcome. However, if they manage to succeed, they may achieve self-discovery and carve their path forward.
After the death of a major character, Miles suddenly finds himself trapped in his own labyrinth of suffering as he desperately tries to piece together the answers for the questions lingering in his mind. As a result of their shared loss, the friends go through a coming-of-age moment, a moment that John Green reveals is heavily influenced by grief.
Much like Miles and his friends, we mature rapidly during our struggles within the labyrinth, especially if those tribulations involve the death of a loved one. Green makes the point that overcoming our grief and coming to terms with our mistakes and regrets will ultimately result in the transition from care-free adolescence into mature and emotionally intelligent adulthood.
Cherishing the Moment
Looking For Alaska offers its readers a moment of clarity to ponder the meaning of life before emphasizing the importance of living life to the fullest and embracing the present moment before it could be too late. Miles is shown to have fallen in love with an idealized version of Alaska rather than focusing on the reality. Takumi is shown to carry guilt and wavers on the past.
By the end of the story, the characters reconcile with their regrets and realize that despite the many challenges of life found within their labyrinths, the most important thing is to treasure every waking hour of their life. For teenagers still exploring the world and planning for their future, John Green’s message serves as a reminder that one can never know when that fragile thread of life might forever snap. Best to make sure these moments count.
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