I always wanted to write and I always took solace in words. My childhood was tumultuous to say the least but something vital happened to me when I was about 15 (which now looking back on it was a big year for books) I fell down my first youtube hole and spent four hours watching all of the Vlogbrothers Brotherhood 2.0 videos. It was 2007 and the project was just hitting its sixth month. John and Hank Green made videos back and forth and somewhere in there John mentioned a book he wrote called Looking for Alaska.
I wandered into Barnes and Noble, grabbed a copy, then went home and read it all in one sitting under a pile of sheets and tears. I’d never felt so wholly understood by a book. I’d never seen a character so like me on pages. I’d never had feelings I’d always felt put into words I didn’t know were the right words. I’d always loved books but this was my first favorite book. My world changed that summer night. I finally knew what I wanted to write.
When I talk favorite books, I have my Big Three. I’ve talked before about Gatsby and The Book Thief and there is no better time than now to talk about Alaska. It’s January 10th. It’s Alaska Young Day.
I read this book every January to coincide with Alaska Young day. If you’ve read the book, you know the significance of January 10th. But even if the day wasn’t significant I’d read the book once a year, just as I do with my other favorites. I miss these characters when I don’t read the book. I think of them sometimes like I reminisce about my own friends. “Hey, remember the night in the barn with Pudge and Alaska? That was great.” They are just as real to me as my friends. They’ve taught me just as much and helped me grow just as much.
I read this book at an interesting time. I was growing and changing and my life was turning around me quickly while I stood powerless to stop the ever growing wreckage. I could see myself going down a very dangerous road and I welcomed it because what else could I have done? What else was I worth?
In the character of Alaska I saw myself. Powerful, motivated, broken, sexy, charged, enraged, empowered. Volatile, scary, passionate, self destructive. Reading her story was like holding up a mirror, or a warning. We were driving down the same road at 95 miles an hour. The difference? She turned left and after reading her, I turned right. She saved me. She was my first building block in finding myself.
I still see myself in her when I read the book. We talk the same still. Think the same often. I’m still as moody as ever and I have my days where answering questions won’t happen and you just have to accept that my melancholy streak will never die. But after this novel I grow. Every time I read it I grow. I’m reminded of the dangers of holding to your past and letting it kill you. I grow with Pudge and learn the value of my own great perhaps.
John Green, though. He’s been my favorite author since I as 15. His words have kept me up half the night way before The Fault in our Stars ripped all of our hearts out. He’s influenced my writing style a lot, I’d like to think. I love his always honest, never preachy way of expressing emotion. He is relatable and open and never patronizing or belittling. He knows we are intelligent people and he knows how big our hearts are. His gift really cannot be touched and if I could be 1/8 of what he is, I would be pleased with my life.
His words always inspire me, whether I’m rereading a book of his or watching his weekly videos. He is so unwavering in who he is and always full of hope and inspiration, something I want to be as well. He makes me better and he makes me hope. He makes me want to write so I can save someone like his books saved me. In a few years when some fifteen year old girl feels so alone and lost, they can pick up my book and feel heard and healed, just like I was.
In my second year of college before I took my time off, I was in a directing class. The final project was to direct our own short 20 minute play. When I was down at that university, I was incredibly unhappy and I was not writing at all (which explains part of the unhappiness). After tearing through script after script and finding nothing, I saw Alaska sitting on the edge of my bed staring at me with her emerald green eyes, a cigarette between her smirking lips. I knew what to do.
I wrote a play based on the book. I wrote a twenty page script in one night and cried after I was done. I hadn’t written in so long. I hadn’t felt my words carrying me in so long. The misery seemed to clear and I felt like myself again. This book brought my words back to me and to this day that play is the piece of writing I am the most proud of. Now, if only I could find some way of getting John Green to read it! That would be the dream.
So on this day, January 10th, Alaska Young day, I celebrate this life changing book. I’ll read the book, pour myself a revolting glass of Strawberry Hill, and hold an unlit cigarette between my lips for her. An eternal thank you to John Green for this book, the life changing member of my Big Three that shaped who I am, my career goals, and everything. Thank you Pudge, Takumi, Lara, The Colonel, and Alaska most of all.