At the end of the last chapter, Miles told Alaska that sometimes he doesn’t get her. “You never get me,” she says. “That’s the whole point.” Ugh. ALASKA DO YOU KNOW HOW INSUFFERABLE THAT IS? I mean, yeah, we know on some level that you are deliberately cultivating this aura of mystery, but you can’t come out and SAY you’re cultivating the aura or it totally punctures the aura! (A process known as “Lana Del Raying.”) Anyway.
“99 Days Before”
Miles is reading Ethan Frome, which is a real motherfucker of a book. I was profoundly disturbed by that shit, on like, the order of Requiem For A Dream. But he calls it “miserably uninteresting,” which is really hard not to take personally. Why don’t you like anything, Miles? Why do most YA narrators have no interests whatsoever? Is it because they’re trying to make them universally relatable? Because this passionless blank-slate thing is much harder to relate to for me than even like, someone who was crazy about... baseball. Or pogs! Hey, remember pogs?
(Thinking about this some more though, I am realizing that I had friends in high school who had no apparent interests. Or maybe I was just an inconsiderate friend? But I can start to relate to Miles from that perspective, which I hadn’t considered before. I’m The Colonel, not Pudge. I’m Gatsby, not Nick! Okay, I’m not Gatsby.* I’m probably Tom’s wife or whatever.)
(*But I did say “I‘m fuckin’ GATSBY!” during one of my LA videos, and nerdfighter types freaked out. John Green did a video--oh man, I am getting sick of typing that phrase!--about The Great Gatsby, making it a cool book on the Internet for like five days. I saw like, Instagram shots of pages from the book on Tumblr. For real.)
Then he and Chip go for a smoke break with Alaska and Takumi at the Smoke Hole Lounge and are promptly busted by The Eagle--who, don’t forget, is the HUMAN villain named after a bird, not the bird villain who is just a regular old bird. He tells them he will see them in “Jury” tomorrow, which is the unorthodox and kind of dark way the school dishes out punishment which we will get to in a second. Because then as The Eagle is leaving, Alaska picks up her discarded cigarette--an act of rebellion (and addiction). He turns, she drops it, and then Miles thinks he catches the principal smiling. As someone who was often aided in my school-related mischief by teachers and other staff members, this isn’t exactly a revelation for me--and given that I share like 99% of the cultural DNA of most nerdfighters (I have opposable irony thumbs, though) I imagine it’s not really a revelation for anyone reading. But it’s a nice moment nonetheless.
“98 Days Before”
Culver Creek elects a Jury of students at the start of every school year, and the kids hand out punishments to each other. So I kind of went into this expecting to hear “Your punishment for smoking is free candy!” but The Eagle presides as judge and the students more or less act the way they assume he’d want them to. Which is kind of a terrifying message about authority, and how even when you give power to the people they follow the same rules The King set down for them--because they’re scared, and because it’s easier.
Anyway Alaska and Chip take the fall for Takumi and Miles--and our narrator doesn’t really understand why yet. Has he never seen any movies about organized crime? He owes them a favor now, duh.
“89 Days Before”
Alaska tells Miles she’s found a girlfriend for him--Lara, the Soviet Sexpot. That’s vaguely interesting, but so is this, which comes when The Colonel disses Moby Dick.
“I like that book,” Alaska said.
“Yes.” The Colonel smiled and leaned over to look at her from his top bunk. “You would. Big white whale is a metaphor for everything. You live for pretentious metaphors.”
We’re kind of skirting the line between “dialogue that conveys something interesting about characters” and “personal thesis statements spoken aloud rather than worked into the story in a meaningful way” but I think this one is in-bounds. Maybe because the Colonel is saying it about Alaska, rather than her saying it about herself. But this too:
“She has great breasts,” the Colonel said without looking up from the whale.
“DO NOT OBJECTIFY WOMEN’S BODIES!” Alaska shouted.
Now he looked up. “Sorry. Perky breasts.”
“That’s not any better!”
“Sure it is,” he said. “Great is a judgment on a woman’s body. Perky is merely an observation. They are perky. I mean, Christ.”
No flag on the play, but I definitely reached for it.
“87 Days Before”
Alaska sets up a “triple and a half date” for herself and her boyfriend, Chip and that blond bitch, Miles and Lara, and Takumi by himself. FUCK OFF, TAKUMI! OBVIOUSLY no one wants you here. Jake, Alaska’s man, shows up while she’s ironing a shirt for Miles. Adhering to the patriarchal paradigm is fine if you’re trying to get some pussy for your friend, I guess. Anyway Jake has “blond hair to his shoulders, dark stubble on his cheeks, and the kind of faux-ruggedness that gets you a career as a catalog model.” So he’s Tim Riggins, in other words. Again, the patriarchal paradigm is fine if it gets you out of having to fuck some weird nebbish am I right Alaska?
She keeps kissing him, which is understandable if he looks like Tim Riggins, but she apologizes to Miles. “I just can’t seem to stop kissing my boyfriend!” Okay, well not really an apology I guess. SIDEBAR: Teenagers are really, excessively fond of the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” aren’t they? Which is why high school is a series of brutally exclusive relationships with the illusion of promiscuity (even on Skins barely anybody is ever getting fucked). And lots of single adults I know (like, uh, my dad) have a lot of trouble with those terms. They hate using them! Is that because once they’ve been around the monogamy track a few times, they want to avoid being drawn back in? Or is it just because the words sound funny and below their stature?
Sometimes when I have vague ideas for a joke I just put a note at the bottom of a post and push it down until I find room for it. I can tell this one isn’t going to get anywhere though (Re: Lara) so I will just leave it to die: Vladimir Putitinher.
Before dinner they go to another basketball game, and Alaska tells our narrator about her boyfriend’s band, Riggins’s Rigs. “They’re like Radiohead meets the Flaming Lips,” she says. So, like Radiohead then? But Miles finds Jake to be a thoroughly unhateable dude, and finds the way Alaska grinds all over him to be charming. I’m a good enough wingman to remain unconvinced. You deserve that crazypussy, Miles! Go back to Tyra, Tim Riggins!
Takumi and The Colonel prove to be less effective wingmen: The Colonel taunts a player from the other team, said player (they call him the Beast, not that that could POSSIBLY matter even a little bit) walks toward the stands as if to fight our heroes, Takumi runs (keep running, Takumi! Run right out of the book, don’t look back!) and Miles is sufficiently panicked enough to follow.
Which is a terrible idea because 1. there is no way he is getting laid tonight whereas a fight, won or lost, would have guaranteed that, and 2. the basketball player throws a basketball at apparent tremendous velocity and hits Miles in the head, knocking him to the ground. I’m of two minds here: a blow to the brain is probably bad for Miles personally, but if it will slow the onslaught of metaphors it might be OK for everybody generally. One person for whom it is emphatically terrible is Lara, though: As she and the rest of the crew catch up to Miles, now reeling outside the gym, she tries to comfort him.
And then I leaned forward and threw up onto Lara’s pants. I can’t say why I didn’t lean backward or to the side. I leaned forward and aimed my mouth toward her jeans--a nice, butt-flattering pair of jeans, the kind of pants a girl wears when she wants to look nice but not like she is trying to look nice--and I threw up all over them.
Takumi and Lara drive Miles to the hospital--they don’t have a nurse at the school?--and he lays in the back of the car repeating “The. Symptoms. Generally. Associated. With. Concussion.” That is the most John Green-y that Miles gets--it feels like a line from a vlog. “Thoughts From Concussed Places.” The doctor tells Miles to sleep a lot, which is the opposite of what you are supposed to do I think, and they all go home.
That night the Colonel (who, it turns out, went forward with the rest of the date) tells Miles that his girlfriend dumped him. Sara, I think he name was? Sorry Colonel, but nobody cares. “I mean, I said I loved her,” he says. “I lost my virginity to her.” Cool story, bro. As this scene unfolds, a still-concussed Miles tries to nominally participate in the conversation but also clearly doesn’t care much. Which is funny and meta in that it reflects how little we readers care, but also, like, so why is it being written about? Whither Sara?