Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: nine days after through twenty days after

Nine days after it happens, the Colonel becomes obsessed with discovering the motivations of Alaska, so much so that he becomes increasingly irritating. This forces Miles to make the most mature statement in the book so far. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Looking For Alaska.

nine days after

(Trigger warning for suicide, as it’s sort of inevitable that I and others will have to talk about it at this point.)

I wish the Colonel had kept his theories to himself.

On the one hand, this is pissing me off. Not necessarily John Green’s writing, I mean, but the choices that this character is making. I find it incredibly uncomfortable when anyone attempts to rationalize or justify suicide in a way that frames them as the victim. That doesn’t mean suicide affects only one person, and this is why I don’t think this is really something that’s a problem with John Green. The Colonel and Miles are both immature young men, inexperienced and lacking in scope, and it’s entirely believable that the two of them would start blaming Alaska for their own problems. In a way, that is. Again, it’s difficult ground to cover, and I had to take a second to step away from how personal this is for me. As I said before, I have a very intimate relationship with suicide, so it’s practically impossible for me to be objective about it when it’s ever discussed.

But let’s get down to it; I think it’s important to talk about this stuff, even if it’s uncomfortable. Unrelated to pretty much everything I felt during these chapters, I suddenly wondered what the hell Takumi was up to. It does make sense that the Colonel would try to “figure out” what happened to Alaska, but Takumi would also do something like this. Anyway, I find it strange that he’s not around at all. Isn’t he close to the Colonel?

The Colonel decides to involve Miles in pursuing the idea that because Alaska’s death seems so absurd, there’s an “answer” to it. Let me just say that I have no idea where this is going and I can already tell that this journey is doomed from the start. Presuming to know what a person did and why when they aren’t around to provide their own insight is a problem, and it’s ultimately what causes Miles to snap a couple chapters later. And as awful as this all is, I feel like Green eventually ends up using the text to show us what a terrible, no-good, counterproductive idea this whole thing was.

I admit to being curious about one and only one detail about Alaska concerning her death: I would like to know who called her, and how that upset her so much that she absolutely had to leave. But, like Miles, I know that ultimately it’s futile. It doesn’t make her “less freaking dead,” as he puts it so succinctly. I think that while there’s so pretty problematic shit here, we are seeing Miles mature. Finally. He’s started to accept death and accept what’s happened. Unfortunately, it also appears to be pitting the Colonel and Miles against each other, since they both disagree on whether to go after an information about Alaska’s death. Which…well, I’ll get to that in a second.

thirteen days after

I’m torn between thinking this is the most realistic possibility or one of the silliest scenes in the whole novel. Miles and the Colonel walk to a police station, and the Colonel just flat-out demands to talk to the office who saw Alaska die. And the cop just obliges without a second thought. UM WHEN DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN.

Except I have a relative who talks exactly like this cop, and I also know that this is a much, much smaller town. Here in Oakland or over in San Francisco, I’d be laughed out of the station. So I have no idea how to feel about all of this. What the cop tells them seems clear enough: Alaska very smoothly and accurately directed her car into the cop’s car, very much not like someone who was as drunk as she was. He also noticed she had a bouquet of white tulips in the back seat. Which basically convinces the Colonel that Alaska committed suicide. And then that inspires Miles’s first real moment of insight and tact:

“Maybe we should just let her be dead,” I said, frustrated. It seemed to me that nothing we might find out would make anything better…

DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER. Though this is immediately ruined when both he and the Colonel bring up that familiar and eye-roll-inducing line that people who commit suicide are simply selfish. First of all, what a remarkably selfish thing to say about someone. I mean, you are literally making someone’s pain and torment about yourself! And look, as someone who went through this and was suicidal for years, I can assure you that those of us who do try to kill ourselves spend a whole lot of time thinking about how it will affect others. I can assure you that some of us think about the positives and the negatives and we work through those facts and sometimes the positives genuinely outweigh the negatives. If Alaska really did kill herself, I highly, highly doubt that it was done on a whim to annoy and enrage Miles and the Colonel.

fourteen days after

So I will say I’m glad that Green opens this chapter by showing that people can possibly be suicidal without fitting the accepted narrative of why they are like that. In this case, Alaska doesn’t fit the model that she should have, and it’s a good way to demonstrate that people who are depressed or suicidal don’t fit into neat little categories. Our experiences and our bodies are all so different, so these things manifest in various ways.

And as Miles tries to navigate through this, I also like that he comes to the conclusion that this posthumous interrogation of Alaska’s life is only making him hate her. (That’s sort of a problem in itself, but it’s more a sign of his selfish memory of Alaska than anything else.) What’s the point of all of this if it ruins the memory he has of her? What purpose would that serve? Wouldn’t he rather be happy to have known her at the end of all of this?

Alaska as a ghost who uses the lights in a Waffle House to communicate through Morse Code is pretty funny, though. Also: I never got to eat at a Waffle House before I went vegan. DAMN IT.

I almost told him that Alaska wouldn’t want him to call any woman a bitch, but there was no use fighting with the Colonel.

AHHHH NO PLEASE TELL HIM NEXT TIME. Maybe he’ll actually listen.

twenty days after

Well, shit, this chapter is awkward.

The Colonel and Miles’s disagreement about what to do with the trail of “clues” to what happened to Alaska comes to a head. Miles finally puts his foot down and flips out, telling the Colonel that he has no interest in this pursuit anymore. It won’t help anything, and he certainly doesn’t want to listen to Jake tell them how much he loved Alaska. I think Miles’s point is fantastic, but the Colonel very quickly notices a weakness that he can exploit: Miles still “loves” Alaska. To be fair, he is kind of right about Miles’s uncomfortable love for that girl because he wants to view her only in the way that benefits himself. And then he promptly demonstrates it by using Alaska’s life as some sort of growth meter for his own.

I don’t know that Alaska represents the actual qualifications for being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl herself because Green gives her far more character, story, and motivation than I’m used to in this trope. But holy cow, I can’t ignore the entire section where Miles whines about how much Alaska affected him, how much she “taught” him and how “different” she made him. That is the trope just spelled out for the world to see, and then Miles has the nerve to blame his own spiritual crisis on her. NO THANK YOU.

However, I do think it might be interesting if this is portrayed less as a journey to shape Miles and more of one that shapes up Alaska’s character. That is something I’d like to see more of. Even with the faulty execution of her character at times, I think there’s a great story to be told through her, and I can only hope that the rest of Looking For Alaska can address that.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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27 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: nine days after through twenty days after

  1. Asta Marie says:

    1. I have so many things that I want to address but argh spoilers. 2. You kind of sort of really need to read Paper Towns.

    • MeasuringInLove says:

      PREACH. Looking for Alaska is actually my least favourite Green novel, and Paper Towns is my favourite.

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        I'll read it on my own and do a one-off review for Mark Reads! I kind of want to do one-offs for all of John Green's novels after that. HOW DOES THIS SOUND

        • MeasuringInLove says:

          That sounds BEAUTIFUL.

        • Nick says:

          Paper Towns is divided into three "parts" plus a prologue, so how about *three* one-off reviews? (Prologue + Part One, then Part Two, then Part Three)? Because Paper Towns is a complicated book and you may be better able to sort of absorb & process each part rather than all at once.

          (And yes, this is also because I want you to write more stuff about John Green.)

  2. clodia_risa says:

    Oh. OOOH!

    “First of all, what a remarkably selfish thing to say about someone. I mean, you are literally making someone’s pain and torment about yourself!”

    So THAT’s why I hate that particular line of logic about suicide. Thank you for so perfectly encapsulating it so I can finally get it.

  3. settlingforhistory says:

    I know the idea of suicide as selfish really p*** some people off, but as someone who has lost a family member that way, this is simply how it feels like. The "Why did you leave me" moment will always be there, just like the "You damn a**** " no matter how much you rationalize it. It feels like the person left you behind, ended his suffering and now you have to suffer. It is stupid and unfair but I have seen what my family went through and think Hank Green did a really good job of portraying this confusing mix of anger at the person you lost and anger at yourself.
    Alaska would hit Miles over the head because of the things he says about her, but that does not change the way he feels.

    Chapter 20 has some of the saddest lines I've read so far: 'You left me Perhapsless" 'I can't remember, because I never knew' This is so close to home, I almost cried.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Oh, no doubt, but there's nothing here that says, "Hey, please consider something else." That's the only reason I brought it up, but yes, you are definitely right.

      • settlingforhistory says:

        I think the problem with it is that both Miles and the Colonel are directly affected by her death.
        If there where someone outside their group of friends hearing them speak like this, they might mention the points you did.
        What I really like is that Green does not try to tell what is would be right in this situations, but what people go through, what they feel and think. He lets them be mean and unfair and angry, but I too hope it will change when they've had a little more time to deal with it. It has been only 2 weeks after all.

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Right? I mean, I don't want to equate characters doing shitty things —> author is shitty, because that's both unfair and unrealistic, you know?

    • flootzavut says:

      *random hugs if you want them* you kinda said all the things I wanted to say but didn't have the words for.

  4. Elexus Calcearius says:

    Throughout this, I kept wondering about the response of it being selfish. Is that Green's actual opinion, or just one he's presenting for the characters? Because sadly, I think "that's so selfish" is one of the first responses most people have to suicide or a suicide attempt. I also think its one that really needs to be better addressed in media, because it diminishes the pain the sufferer is going through, and if you tell that to someone who just went through an attempt- well, its hardly going to make them feel better, is it? But then again, if you're writing about people dealing with the effects suicide, its realistic that they would voice that opinion…

    Its a confusing book, I think. There seem to be so many conflicting sides. Are these really the opinions being presented? Are these tropes being played straight, or subverted, or deconstructed? IDK, guys.

  5. arctic_hare says:

    Aaaaaaaaaaand that'd be why I got so angry at this part of the book. I just didn't find either character remotely sympathetic, and the spelling out of that trope made me cringe so hard.


    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      I BELIEVE YOU SOLD IT TO ME. or maybe it was another mod? but like HOW HAVE I NOT READ ANY DIANNE WYNN JONES.

      • arctic_hare says:



  6. pennylane27 says:

    I haven't been commenting much, though I still go through the comments, and all I can say is that I'm loving the way reading this book here is making me think about a lot of stuff. I'm having a lot of problems wording this though.

    I haven't got any experience with suicide, as I have never felt suicidal or had any suicides in my close circles. And I've got to admit, I always thought that it was a very sad thing, that people thought they had no other choice but to end their lives. Again, I have never ever felt that way, so I just couldn't really understand why some people chose that path. I have been extremely lucky and privileged, I know, that I have always had people to talk to and ask advice from to solve my problems.

    And yes, I was one of those people who thought that ultimately, and in some cases in particular, suicide was a selfish act. How would the families feel, knowing that that person felt there was no other way, that they couldn't help. And I always told myself that no matter how difficult my life became or how depressed I felt, I would never put my family through that.

    I haven't actively thought about suicide and what it means since I was 16 and we were covering that in my Sociology class, and as soon as the topic was announced a girl ran out of the classroom. I remember feeling awful, but not being close with her, I never asked.

    And now I think I'm beginning to understand better. I want to be careful about what I say, because like I said, I have zero experience with this. I don't know if the book is accurately depicting all the aspects of suicide. I don't even know if it accurately depicts grief, since my own experience with it was different than it was for other people — I just seem to accept death much more faster than people around me, I don't know. Doesn't mean that I'm not affected by it, but I just seem to recover and move on easily. Anyway, I see now that suicide is a very complex thing and now I feel kind of bad for treating it in such a simplistic way, especially when I haven't experienced anything like it.

    I guess what I'm trying to say with all this, is thank you Mark and Readers for opening my mind to new ideas and insights and ultimately making me a more thoughtful and tolerant person. Or something. Okay, I hope that came out fine.

    • Eefje says:

      I want to add my thanks as well. Although I’ve experienced grief and been irrevocably changed by my loss, I’ve never been confronted with suicide in my life. It is something that is pretty alien to me, so all of the points brought up here give me new insights about it.

  7. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I feel like my thoughts on this section have pretty much been expressed by others, so instead I just want to point out that this review was accidentally posted under Infinite Jest rather than Looking for Alaska.

  8. sporkaganza93 says:

    "Presuming to know what a person did and why when they aren’t around to provide their own insight is a problem"

    Znex vf ernyyl tbbq ng pynveiblnapr, vfa'g ur? Ur gbgnyyl whfg fhzzrq hc gur ragver gurzr bs Cncre Gbjaf.

  9. Jordan says:

    The lens through which we view other people is a common theme in Green's writing, and I always got the feeling that Alaska's character felt so weird and that her death was used to shape Pudge's journey was because we were viewing everything through Pudge's eyes. Yeah, a lot of his reactions are selfish and immature, but that is because he is selfish and immature. Alaska comes off as a manic-pixie-dream-girl because that is how Pudge sees her, and the little hints towards her real feelings and motivations are Green's way of deconstructing the character archetype.

    As for the subject of suicide, I think that it really depends on the person/situation. Having grown up with a suicidal mother who has blamed me for her self destructive feelings since shortly after I was born, there are times when it is selfish (in my opinion) and times when it is not. I don't know. I just have mixed feelings on the subject.

    • Leo says:

      THIS, this this this. Things only get introduced to the narrative once Pudge sees or hears about them, which means there could be a bucketload going on behind the scenes that can be trotted out at any moment – I’m thinking a good mild example is Alaska’s reaction to Pudge being thrown in the lake – he’s hurt by her indifference because he doesn’t know that she thought he’d been treated the same as everyone else. He never has any context to her “mood swings” – he just effectively reports to the reader how he sees her from moment moment, which makes her seem quite erratic.

      I may be biased on this though, I like Alaska. I think she’s as flawed and sometimes irritating as the other teenagers in the story, but I see logical leaps between her odd behavior (or the spaces where those leaps could be if we just saw them.)

  10. flootzavut says:

    I was thinking a little more about this, and thinking that while it's not fair to just plain old say, "people who commit suicide are selfish," by the same token, we should allow the people who survive them to feel what they feel and to grieve the way they need to grieve. If that means going through stages of anger, self-centredness, etc, then so be it. Grief is a funny thing and a person needs to go through it, not try and avoid it or rationalise it – especially when a death is unexpected and the person was young.

    When people who have never directly experienced the affects of suicide say, "Oh, suicides are selfish," that's one thing. But for the people directly affected – they have to be able to say what they say and feel what they feel, and grief is often inherently unreasonable.

    Telling someone, "well no, it wasn't selfish" – or worse, "you are selfish for expecting them to put up with their pain for your sake," when they are grieving and feeling like they have been deserted by someone they love… that doesn't help anyone.

    Hmmm I hope this makes sense. Vague thoughts that have been going through my head…

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