Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.
That’s the book blurb, ladies and gentlemen.
For a while now, I had been prowling the local book stores in search of a John Green book. So when I saw a copy being sold by one of our street book sellers, I grabbed it, read the blurb and thought “Love story. Cool.”
Except that a love story is not what I got. What I got was a profound, humorous, painful, hopeful and beautifully written story about life…what it means to be alive.
Meet Miles Halter. Sixteen, your regular nice guy, socially awkward and obsessed with the last words of famous people especially those of François Rabelais; words which have him craving for a fresh start. A life less boring. When asked by his parents why he wants to go to Culver Creek, he answers:
“So this guy, Francois Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”
And Miles enrolls at Culver Creek; an elite preparatory school where he befriends his room mate Chip “The Colonel” Martin. The Colonel introduces Miles to his friends, the mysterious Alaska Young and Takumi Hikohito. Soon, we get acquainted with The Colonel’s (and friends) way of life; from the classes, the epic pranks, the illegal smoking, drinking and other forms of mischief.
I’ll be honest with you; it took me a while to get into the book. It starts off slowly and I was not exactly enthralled by the characters; the exception being The Colonel and Takumi who I found fascinating. And yet, I found myself drawn in by John Green’s style of writing which is simple and beautifully thoughtful.
There were times -especially during matatu rides-that I found myself pausing to look out of the window, reflecting on the abstract thoughts and views peppered throughout the story.
Case in point; during Mile’s first World religions class the teacher, Dr. Hyde walks in and says:
“I must talk, and you must listen, for we are engaged here in the most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?”
The banter between Miles and his friends is witty, fun and had me wishing that my high school convos had been this cerebral. It is also cool to note that the book is divided into before & after and there is a chronological count down to the unknown (life changing) event. I found myself reading each chapter with dread, almost hearing the clock counting down…sensing that whatever was around the corner was going to be majorly bad. And when it does happen, Miles is forced to really examine life and the personal choices he makes.
In a nutshell?
This is an amazing read and a YA classic. I highly recommend it to not only teens but to anyone who wants to sample a YA read that dishes out lots of food for thought.
Here’s a couple of my fave (spoiler free) quotes for you to savor:
I laughed. “What the hell is that?”
“It’s my fox hat.”
“Your fox hat?”
“Yeah, Pudge. My fox hat.”
“Why are you wearing your fox hat?” I asked.
“Because no one can catch the motherfucking fox.”
“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”