Sometimes, you read regular, old books. Other times, you read good books. And, if you’re really lucky, occasionally you’ll read books that will change your life. Both of the books I’m highlighting in this article, Looking for Alaska by John Green and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, changed my life.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Where do I even start?
What made this book such a stand-out was it’s structure, characters, and the unapologetic pain you feel when you read it.
The book focuses on a high school boy, Miles “Pudge” Halter, and his search for the “Great Perhaps”, a term coined by the poet Françios Rabelais. You see, Pudge has a fascination with people and their last words.
Rabelais’ last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps” and that resonated with Miles. He took this concept and applied it as his own life motto, switching schools to try and get a second chance at a good high school experience.
The other main character is Alaska Young, the one whom Miles eventually realizes is, in fact, his Great Perhaps. Problems arise, though, when Alaska’s past is revealed and she struggles to keep herself together.
Not to mention she has a boyfriend that’s not Pudge. It seems to be a relationship that will never develop; simply too many moving parts to get working and in sync. Then, one night Pudge and Alaska finally kiss and share an intimate moment.
Surrounding all of this are other important characters, such as Chip “The Colonel” Martin (Pudge’s roommate and best friend), Takumi Hikohito (part of the friend group), and Lara Buterskaya (Pudge’s short-term girlfriend in the story).
The whole friend group causes mischief by pulling some of the most ridiculous pranks you could imagine and it seems like Miles might have found his Great Perhaps, after all.
Until Alaska dies. Then everyone begins to unravel. It’s cruel; it’s completely out of the blue; and it hurts. The worst of all, she dies in the middle in the book, meaning you suffer with everyone for the entire second half.
This is where I feel we take for granted in those “classic” story line books, where the end is either distinctly happy or distinctly sad. You get to just close the book after the grand finale and go on with your life. But, no, not with this book.
You grieve for as long as it takes you to finish the rest of the book before you finally have the satisfaction of putting it behind you. Books like Looking for Alaska leave you not knowing how to feel at all.
Don’t be confused, I do like this book. I’m practically infatuated with it, because it’s unique, emotional, and unexpected.
I highly recommend this book for those of you who think you can handle the emotional roller coaster that it is. It will force you to exercise your mind and feel emotions at new depths.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This book is similar in nature to Looking for Alaska, each having some kind of tragic surprise.
The main character, Theodore Finch, suffers with Bipolar Disorder. He’s constantly thinking about death and struggles to be okay with who he really is. As a result, he tends to present himself under different “personas”. One day he might be the “bad boy”, and then, a few months later, he might be an 80s dude.
Violet Markey is his lead counterpart. She fears death and resents it for stealing her sister away too soon. All she can think about is graduating from her high school in small-town Indiana and making a new start.
Their relationship is forced to deepen when they’re assigned partners for a school project where they have to visit the notable places in their home-state of Indiana. Theodore and Violet fall in love and have some very happy times together, each seeming to fulfill some deep longing in the other.
Theodore’s mental health begins to deteriorate and this puts strain on their relationship.
His breakdown climaxes when he goes off the grid, sending cryptic texts to Violet. She follows his clues to “all the bright places” they visited together for their project and she finds him dead at the bottom of a supposedly bottomless lake called the Blue Hole.
Finch’s mental illness had gotten the better of him, after all.
For some reason, I didn’t expect this book to be tragic. Things were going so well by the halfway and three-quarters points! I had hoped maybe this would be one of those stories where two people who have some intense struggles manage to power through and live happy lives. Well, I hoped wrong and this story just absolutely broke my heart.
If you want to read this book, prepare to be devastated. The sky was literally a different shade of blue for me after I finished this book.
So…why do I like it?
I appreciate books that take you on journeys into the unknown and this book did just that! Another thing I admire about this book is its focus on mental health. I feel a lot of authors aren’t willing to take their readers to the depths Jennifer Niven does. It’s refreshing, actually, to see a writer go to such dark places in the name of mental health awareness.
What are some of the most surprising books you’ve ever read??
Let me know in the comments!