Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking For Alaska (Or: You GUYS, Why Didn't You WARN Me?)

First off:  If you have not read Looking For Alaska by John Green, please stop reading this blog post.  Yup, stop right now.  Go read the book.  Then come back.  I'll wait.

Ready?  Ok.  If you're still reading,  I'm going to assume you've read the book.  Because there will be spoilers.  And despite the subtitle of this blog post, I've never been so glad not to have been spoiled on a book.  So please, please, please if you haven't read the book, go away.  You'll be glad when you read it.

[While I'm taking up space so that people don't accidentally spoil themselves, let me remark that I am really looking forward to having energy to devote to this blog again.  I've been directing A Midsummer Night's Dream with my students and the first performance was yesterday.  By 9:30 Saturday night, I'll be done with the show!  My students killed it last night and I'm really proud of them, but I will be very, very happy to have my life back.]

Ok, back on track.  Looking For Alaska.  I don't know how I managed to remain unspoiled on the biggest plot point of this novel that seems to be (justifiably) beloved by everyone on the internet.  But there I was, sitting on the train, reading the book, naively wondering, gee, what could they be counting down to?  What's going to happen when I get to those grey-edged pages? 

And then It happened.  I can't remember ever really going through the stages of grief this clearly for a fictional character.  I most definitely began with denial.  Pages and pages of denial.  I'm sorry, everyone else in my subway car, if you thought were sitting down next to a normal person and not a subway loon.  I can't imagine you loved the teary muttering and head shaking and furious page flipping that ensued.  It just really, truly, didn't occur to me that It--you know what I'm talking about--could be the Big Bad Thing.  Especially with the structure of the story, and Green's pacing leading up to It.  And all I could think was, "Why didn't anyone WARN ME ABOUT THIS?" 

I'm usually the one springing things on other readers.  One of my favorite things in the world is to read books to or with my students that I know will elicit strong reactions from them.  I love it.  The Giver and The Hunger Games definitely do this.  When I read "My Last Duchess" with my seniors this year and they got it--that was great.  And I cry at books fairly often (most recently before this: The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Before I Fall).  But this particular blend of surprise and shock (two different things), and absolute devastation--I really can't remember the last book that did that to me.  Even when bad things happen in the Hunger Games series--even the last, worst thing--didn't surprise me quite this much.  That was the world.  Maybe I wasn't using all my reading smarts during the first part of Looking For Alaska, but I think it's just really, really brilliant writing. 

Once I got over my first rush of disbelief and genuine sadness, I was able to reflect on how grateful I was for this experience.  This is why I read.  And truly, I was really glad not to have been spoiled, even though it was a rough train ride.  So, thanks, John Green, and thanks, discreet bloggers.  I've tried to follow suit as much as I could here so that others can have the same experience. 

What books have you read that truly, deeply surprised you, or moved you beyond a momentary reaction?  What did the author do to get that reaction?  As a reader, do you want those experiences, or are they too difficult?

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