I’ve spent the better part of a week not writing about Looking For Alaska because it’s hard to compare with John Green. And also because my computer has been being fixed by the Geniuses at Apple, I suppose. But anyway, a week later, I still have nothing profound to say, so instead of a high-quality essay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to post random thoughts.
My two favorite things about YA (Young Adult) fiction author John Green are that he is passionate about writing for smart people and writing for teenagers. In that regard, he reminds me of my high school. I am a proud graduate of Greensboro Day, a ridiculously weathly and elitist private school… which just happens to be one of the most interesting social experiments I’ve seen.
See, the kids there aren’t ordinary in economic terms, but they’re not so different from other private school kids, like the ones I knew during my year at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, NC. (Disclaimer to Kate, Liz, and other Wesleyan friends: I’m sorry to diss your school, but I simply must. Proceed with caution.) Yet, the attitude at the school was completely different. Sure, kids didn’t always like to do their homework and they drank on the weekends and what have you. But there was this attitude about school that I’ve never seen before or since–the average kid was motivated to do decent, often to do very, very well, not just in school but in life. The coolest kids in my grade happened to be in all AP classes. This was a sharp contrast from Wesleyan, when I got made fun of for making As.
John Green reminds me of Greensboro Day in that GDS, it seems, believes that if you expect a lot out of people they grow up. They realize they can perform. They can even take an interest in things. Take my brother, for example. A few years ago I wondered if we would ever have anything on common. But thanks to AP European History and a school production of Les Mis, I know have a brother with a nerdy interest in the French Revolution in addition to football and classic rock. And that’s fine–he can still be cool at GDS and be genuinely interested in something like that. It’s like the curriculum’s expectations and teachers’ attitudes have created this unique culture of thoughtfulness. Kids still do stupid things. But they can also be really smart. I find it fascinating how much a learning environment can affect individuals, social interactions, etc.
I think a lot of adults assume teens are just beyond hope. Oh, they wouldn’t ever enjoy that. Oh, they aren’t mature enough to appreciate that. They’re not responsible enough to do that. The educated assume such things about general adult masses, as well, but we assume it a lot more about teenagers. I (still feel and) have always felt I was trying to prove myself to people that were older than me, and while as a teen I wasn’t fully mentally/emotionally developed in certain ways (still am not), I knew that I had valuable things to contribute–I just wanted someone to believe in me. The only place I ever found that as a teen, sadly, was at GDS. But it’s something I think we need in all schools, churches, and communities. We need to be understanding that young people aren’t always interested in interesting and important things… but we should invite them into those conversations to participate at the level they can and want to. I think John Green does a great job with this, and for that, I am grateful on behalf of my 14-year-old self.
My two favorite things about John Green’s first book Looking for Alaska are two phrases: “the labyrinth of suffering” and “a great perhaps.” I don’t want to give away the entire novel, because I want you to read it (yes, even you oldsters should pick it up, though be warned, it’s got some sex and f-bombs). Suffice it to say, the novels ends up weaving in some religious themes, without picking an answer to the problem of suffering, and I appreciated that. I think it’s cool to get people thinking about religion even when we can’t–or don’t want to–give them easy answers.
To me, the answer to the labyrinth of suffering isn’t clear, and that’s where the Great Perhaps comes in. I feel like the Christian message, the gospel, is a Great Perhaps. It’s the thing that would get us out of the labyrinth if it’s as real and powerful as it’s supposed to be, but it’s in some ways so grand that it feels much more like a Perhaps some days. And while the existence of suffering isn’t the only question that sent me to seminary, I feel it’s significant enough a question for me (and many people), that it’s fair to say that my journey across the country is in good part seeking this Great Perhaps. I’m trying to see if there is a Great Perhaps there for me that will get us out of the labyrinth. It may be a lifetime trying to figure out the maze, but the Great Perhaps makes it worth it. I feel like even when you have complete confidence in the gospel as reality, the gospel is still in large part possibility. It’s about how things can be, how things can work at their very best. The goy escape the labyrinth. We only hope that one day we will be rescued more completely.
I don’t know that these thoughts will satisfy die-hard John Green fans, but this is what I’ve been thinking about since reading the book. :o)