Home Note to Shelf Note to Shelf: Alaska Disenchanted

Note to Shelf: Alaska Disenchanted

by Youmna El Halabi September 3, 2019

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

It’s 2014, a 16-year-old Youmna reads these words for the first time, and her mind is blown.

Alaska Young, from Looking for Alaska, is played by the beautiful Kaya Scodelario in her mind, blowing out cigarette smoke, talking about the endless labyrinth of suffering, and wanting to die.

Alaska Young smells of vanilla, and cigarettes, with curves in all the right places. She’s carefree, she’s mysterious, she’s promiscuous. She’s a John Green fantasy Youmna wants to embody.

Fast-forward to 2019, a 21-year-old Youmna wants to kick her 16 year-old self in the face.

This summer, finding no solace in the myriad of new books I purchased at my local library, I decided to read John Green’s critically acclaimed novel, for the umpteenth time. I remember it as my favourite book during my formative high school years. That, and The Great Gatsby (more on that in next week’s column). Let’s just say, a lot of disillusionment happened during these past couple of months.

As I read through what I once believed to be an enigmatic novel, I slowly but surely felt my face form into a rictus at every word, every description, every one of Green’s attempts to paint Alaska as this ethereal creature men lust over and who women forever wish to be. What made my experience worse was recalling how I fell for it the first time, and remained under that spell – until now.

The problem with characters like Alaska Young is the romanticization of depression, toxic behaviour and, ultimately, suicide. One of Alaska’s most famous lines is: “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” Spoiler alert, she receives a phone call while she’s drunk that stirs up hysteria, she hops into her car and ends up driving herself into a tree. Alaska ends up dead, and other characters in the book wonder if she killed herself on purpose.

In spite of it all, I ate up Green’s novel word for word. And I’m assuming a large number of teenage girls did as well. Witnessing the protagonist slowly falling in love with Alaska Young and idolizing this “hurricane” of a person has done wonders for my self-esteem, I’ll tell you that.

Green’s novels were quite prominent in my teenage years, and yet now I somehow wish they weren’t. Green did a great job at giving male misfits a voice in the world, but in the process, he felt the need to continue the broken-mysterious-woman narrative we are still trying to grow out of.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

 

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