What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Does Alaska have a mood disorder?

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’m not going to take a guess at that. I think Alaska is clearly struggling and in a lot of pain, though. And I think it’s particularly difficult for her because she feels alone in that pain, which is what really (in my experience, anyway) makes suffering unbearable and makes one experience real despair.

But the weird thing about depression is that it tends to further isolate you from people, thereby making it ever-harder for anyone to bridge the gap and really hear you in the way you need to be heard. So it becomes progressively more difficult to feel that you aren’t alone with your pain, which can make the despair feel permanent and unsolvable.

This is the most insidious thing about depression, I think: It makes itself more powerful by dragging you away from the world outside of yourself. So I don’t want to diagnose Alaska, but certainly she lives with terrible pain, and I think she clearly feels isolated by it, and I wanted to try to reflect that in the phenomenon in the story.

 

Q: What color was Alaska’s hair?

The same dark mahogany color of her coffin, according to Pudge.

Q: Can you relate to the character of Alaska?

 Sure. I was pretty reckless when I was in high school, and I have periodically lived with depression, and I really struggled against self-destructive impulses. But there are also of course a lot of ways in which I wasn’t like Alaska. I wasn’t living with grief the way she was, and I also had a better support network. (Also, I wasn’t a girl.)
I also never drove drunk. Driving drunk always seemed really crazy to me because you could hurt someone else. Of course, what I never thought through in high school was that when I hurt myself, I was also hurting other people, especially the people (like my parents) who loved me the most.

 

Q: Alaska’s belief that she indirectly killed her mother seems gimmicky. How would Alaska be different if both her parents had still been alive?

Fair enough; it is a little gimmicky. (Such things happen, though.) Bear in mind that Alaska didn’t kill her mother. Guilt is a very common response to the loss of a parent or loved one. One always feels that something should’ve been done, and the worst of it is when something actually should’ve been done, but didn’t get done because you are just a regular human being and screw up a million times a day in a million little ways.

That’s really what I was trying to get at: The universe is very capricious in the way that it punishes negligence. Usually, you don’t die if texting while driving. Occasionally, you do. As to your question, it’s so hard to speculate, even with fictional characters, about how their lives would be different if you removed central experiences. From my perspective, Alaska had some pretty serious emotional problems that weren’t about her mother but instead were probably about the way her brain was wired. But all that stuff is so interdependent. One of the reasons I find therapy so useful and interesting is that you can’t really separate nature from nurture.

 

Q: Did you intentionally focus less on descriptions of Alaska as opposed to the effect that she had on people?

Yeah, that was very intentional.

Like, the first time Pudge and Alaska have a real conversation, she’s sitting next to him in the dark and he can’t really see her. And throughout the story, there are times when he’s looking at her without seeing her, or there’s something between them that prevents him from seeing her whole face, or he only sees the back of her head, etc. etc. etc.

That was all meant to indicate how incompletely he sees Alaska, something she mentions to him again and again. But in all his fascination with her, he can’t help but romanticize her, which makes it difficult for him to understand the reality and seriousness of her pain.