Book Summary: Miles “Pudge” Halter is a bright teenager who doesn’t have many friends in Florida. He leaves his school in Florida and goes away to the Alabama boarding school his father had once attended. While there he makes good friends including his math genius roommate who goes by the name the Colonel, a Japanese student Takumi, and his short-lived girlfriend Lara. Most importantly, he gets swept up the world of a wild and gorgeous girl called Alaska whose moods are captivating but border on dangerous. The friends hang out smoking, play pranks, drink, and fill their free time with a combination of studying and making their own fun. After one night of drinking, shortly after kissing Miles (even though she has an older boyfriend), Alaska suddenly flees the school in her car and dies when she hits a police cruiser. The whole school, particularly Pudge and the Colonel, are overcome with grief. Pudge and the Colonel do all they can to understand her death (debating whether it was a drunk-driving accident or suicide, and possibly related to the anniversary of Alaska’s mother’s death) and go through a journey to accepting that she is gone. The book is split into two sections — before her death and afterwards. Alaska’s death divides and punctuates the book, as it does the lives of Miles and the friends she left behind.
APA Reference of Book: Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books.
Impressions: As far as young adult novel goes, this deals with coming of age themes with skill and grace. I found myself eager to pick the book up again and again, and developed strong feelings for the characters. The characters are, for the most part, realistic and believable as precocious, highly intelligent teenagers trying to come to terms with who they are and the death of a friend. John Green effectively accessed the tone and voice of teenage conversation and emotions, which added to the realism of the story. I really disliked Green’s The Fault in Our Stars because I felt the characters were unrealistic and the dialogue is cringeworthy, so was surprised at how much I enjoyed Looking for Alaska. I would recommend this to high school aged students and adults, alike.
This is a novel which unites many powerful themes: first love, bereavement and self-discovery. It is narrated by sixteen-year-old Miles (awkward, geeky, intelligent) and begins with his arrival at his father’s old boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama. Immediately, Miles’s understanding of the world is challenged, first by the confidence and irony of his roommate, the Colonel, secondly by ‘the hottest girl in all of human history’, Alaska Young, and thirdly by one of the teachers at the school, Dr Hyde, who confronts his students with the wisdom of the past and demands that they engage with ideas and values. Miles, Alaska and the Colonel, all natural outsiders, become friends. They devise spectacular revenge pranks when other students flood Alaska’s room. But the reader is aware that something ominous lies ahead, signalled by the chapter headings, which move from ‘One hundred and thirty-six days before’ to the awful ‘One day before’ and the impending event is revealed to be Alaska’s death.
The second part of the novel, ‘After’, explores the characters’ attempts to understand Alaska’s death. There is a suspicion that suicide was her intention when she crashed her car on a road leading out of town. The search for truth leads Miles to a better understanding of his friend and ultimately of himself; interestingly the quest motif and missing girl recall the writer’s earlier novel, the excellent Paper Towns. Similarly, this novel avoids glib solutions to the questions it poses and its dark themes are constantly offset by laugh-out-loud humour. A demanding but rewarding read for older teens.
Library Uses: This would make an excellent book study, in particular as a debate starter using the questions posed by the religious studies teacher in the book. Students could discuss their opinions on the questions posed, using the story as one of the references for their opinions, then produce an essay of their collected, carefully considered thoughts.