The Great Perhaps

To say that I went through a rollercoaster of emotions after reading this book would be an understatement.



I have a principle about buying things: I must be crazy about them. Ask anyone who knows me well and they'd tell you that I launch into a series of fits, hyperventilation and dissertation about why I should have this pair of shoes, this DVD, this piece of makeup, and to what I can say is the material thing I am most passionate about {buying, at least}: books.

I never really think about buying books. Regardless if I see one I like from Fully Booked {what else can you do but succumb into the great visual merchandise}, from Power Books {it does have that old library feel before, now it feels stuffy, though} and even NBS {I always end up not staying too long though, too many kids milling around}, and Book Sale {ok lang but doesn't do much for customer experience}. I even buy so much books online that I always end up sleeping among stacks of books I bought but don't have time to read yet and I end up putting them by the end of my bed.

Recently, I was doing my usual rounds of blog-hopping, including Tumblr and something clicked in me. I've been quoting John Green in a lot of my Tumblr posts, having no idea about this book Looking for Alaska, yet I was so riveted with the writing. So I Amazon-ed it. Boy, was I in for a vacuum.

Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent - no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps," he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious. Green's dialogue is crisp, especially between Miles and Chip. His descriptions and Miles's inner monologues can be philosophically dense, but are well within the comprehension of sensitive teen readers. The chapters of the novel are headed by a number of days "before" and "after" what readers surmise is Alaska's suicide. These placeholders sustain the mood of possibility and foreboding, and the story moves methodically to its ambiguous climax.
Having said that, in my three-inch heels {thank goodness I wasn't wearing the one with five}, I scouted for this book in Makati and found it on my third bookstore {Sketchbooks, GB3}. I almost, well I squee-d in delight when they handed me a copy and went home a happy girl.

I have a soft spot for flawed characters though I don't really know why I'm admitting it. Much of the characters I rooted for were the ones who had 'issues,' like Caitlin Somers in Summer Sisters and Darcy Rhone in Something Blue and Something Borrowed. I have no logical explanation for it, except that I am drawn to human complications and well, just plain bitchiness, really.

Miles Halter sets out to go to a boarding school in Alabama in search of the 'great perhaps,' an idea he has imbibed from reading Francois Rabelais' last words. He has a unique trait, too. He likes knowing famous people's last words and the book peppered with JFK's, Princess Diana's, among others, was a welcome peek through literature.

There he seeks comfort and adventure with his friends Chip {the Colonel}, Takumi {the Japanese kid whom I imagine is somehow like Glee's Mike Chang}, his Romanian girlfriend whom he dumps after giving him oral, Lara, and title character Alaska Young, a wild-at-heart problematic girl with a hippie heart. Together they strove to earn the ire of the Weekend Warriors {ergo, the rich kids} and the Eagle.

The book is peppered with a lot of quotables, it is amazing how I have known most of the lines even before I've read the book {thanks, Tumblr}. The writer seems to be a genuine literati, quoting the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc. Reading it truly transported me to the days when I would stick mini post its on my Judy Blume / JD Salinger / Paulo Coelho books, afraid of highlighting the words cos it might erase them. I wanted to hold on to them, to touch them and if you're a prose freak like me {as I am becoming more and more fully aware}, ingest them till you only speak of this greatness.

For the most part, I was amazed at how Green encapsulated the thrill of growing up, of rising over school bullies and seeing 'the most beautiful girl in school' for the first time. Of discovering cigarettes and alcohol, of going to French class and discerning who to trust. I had a pretty boring high school life {compared to this, I guess}, so this is me wishing I had a more picturesque academic four years. I wished we, too, would sit on grass and read Vonnegut {my version was Pugad Baboy and Sweet Valley}, chug pink wine {err, except I experimented with Budweiser} and had McInedible {McD's fries} while studying calc. I wish we had calc in high school, as much as I wish it was required to read The Great Gatsby and Catch 22 after we have devoured Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. I wish I had a Romanian friend, who would regale me with stories of different cultures.

But it was cool. After the rollercoaster, I got over my sense of much wishing and just devoured Green's words. The setting, as it is in a high school of course had the professors, who were not merely disciplinary figures. I particularly loved the Old Man, who was their philosophy/religion teacher, touching on Islam, Buddhism and Catholicism, how they all were scared of suffering, how the Buddhists created the concept of reincarnation because they were scared of dying and finding out that there is nothing but black nothingness after life. I liked this Rabe'a woman, a woman Alaska would have liked. She says:

I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use his torch to 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.
I liked how Alaska Young's character was built up, where every little detail was taken into account: her purple comforter, her scent {vanilla and cigarettes}, her legs, her curves, her deep mahogany hair. She is a character of all sorts, she buys books from garage sales and not read them --- yet, as for her there are too many things to do, too many cigarettes to smoke, and too many sex to have, she'd read when she's old and boring yet continues to read anyway. I like the fact that she chose her name at seven years old, from a globe, after being named Harmony and Frances by her parents. She is exactly the girl you'd want your son to stay away from {if you happen to be a mom and reading it anyway} because she's freaking reckless and wild and crazy. But she's got heart, she fights against women objectification and for Miles when he was sent out of the class. She was the subject of Miles' young heart and it was inexplicably beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

If I had been the girl I was when I was 16 now, I would have traded in my signature citrus scents for vanilla and proceed to grow up another reckless woman. At some point, I did become a reckless girl but hey, let's save that for when we have coffee or whatever. And because I am not 16 anymore, I somehow flinched at Alaska's loss of control. It was a waste. Then again, if she wasn't so, then this book never would have existed.

I have an undying like for Miles' character though. In search of the great perhaps, he has found his heart, his first love, his talent for writing, philosophy in life {how does one go out of a labyrinth?}, friends who teach you calculus and friends who tell you how it is, that you do not monopolize someone just because it was you who kissed her the night she died. I loved that his character shone through, a big improvement, balls-wise and others, if you compare from the beginning through the end. He has an uncanny talent for putting words to your thoughts {thanks to John Green} which gives the reader {me, most especially} goosebumps all over because truly, the knee jerk reaction while reading this "I wish I had a guy whose creativity is triggered by his love for me." I have never been anyone's muse in my life {in short I never had a boy who was a photographer, an artist, a writer, a lyricist or a poet}, I want to be a catalyst for creativity and Miles just had to make me realize that. I especially felt every single strand of frustration and sadness as he strives through the loss of a loved one because I have been through the same level of denial when my father died.

The book is quite short and it took me about four hours to read it all. That goes to show how much I like it --- because there are books in my shelf that I have never finished no matter how thin and Looking for Alaska escaped that narrow curse in my reading attention span because truly there are no moments that drag the worst yawn out of you. Not when Miles and Alaska are five layers away from each other, not when Alaska says her boob got 'honked,' not when Alaska snaps away saying daydreaming is escaping and she'd rather just do it, not when the boys trail down someone's part of the history, determining what was it inside Alaska that snapped, not when they discuss best/worst days ever and Alaska's answer is one and the same day.

I'm glad I read this now though, when I'm 25 and not 16, because if I did then, I would have turned into another "hot mess," a term I got from Helga's blog post of the same book. I would have been a walking self-destruction waiting to happen and I don't think anyone would like that, or if the world needs any more of those. The world is too beautiful to be too wild to live and too young to die. I'm glad that I read this when I already know a lot 'much betters.'

Just like Helga, I liked the fact that this book is not the least bit sanitized, as opposed to those I've read when I still belonged to the Young Adult sector. The book does not contain superficial things like shaving your legs, or who to go to prom, or what to wear {well, the Colonel launched into a sad realization that he can never wear his flamingo tie anywhere but that was cute}. Having had the pleasure of knowing then-kids, now adults who did not grow up in the same country as I did, I know for a fact that high school kids do not hold themselves back when confronted with the situation of being in a parent-less environment. I liked it that it reflects American kids' culture, of how they were so inspired and so proactive and so out there. Believe me, I know.

On the flip side, I do wish I have read this when I was 16. I would've been a more adventurous girl, instead of the one I was, who watched too much TV and did not write as much as I would have liked to.

And just like a mature person who chooses to fight and live the life, Miles Halter ends the story with a resolve not to escape the labyrinth:

“After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out—but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.”
Dude, that's the freaking spirit.

As for me, I cannot wait to devour more YA books like this. Aside from the Hunger Games trilogy and Jonathan Safran Foer, what else do you recommend reading?