John Green’s Looking for Alaska has drawn mixed reviews from its largely teenage audience, who either love it or hate it.
It’s a coming of age story, which of itself makes it fodder for critics who would deprive young readers of any knowledge or thought about things sexual.
Looking for Alaska‘s “Before” scenario has Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence as one big non-event. His obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young, the gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
Afterwards, nothing is ever the same.
Looking for Alaska opens with protagonist Miles Halter leaving his home in Florida to attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama for his junior year. He uses Francois Rabelais’s last words—”I go to seek a Great Perhaps”—as his argument for choosing boarding school at such a late age. Miles is fond of reading biographies, and particularly of memorizing the subjects’ last words.
At Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin, who provides Miles with his very own nickname: “Pudge,” ironic as Miles is tall and slender. Miles is later introduced to the Colonel’s friend, Alaska Young, an attractive yet emotionally unstable girl.
Alaska and Pudge drink, smoke, and do many things together, causing him to fall in love with her, despite the complications of their relationships. Alaska dares Pudge to “hook up” with her, and they begin making out. She stops, telling him she’s too sleepy, and they can leave it “to be continued”. Alaska received a phone call in the middle of the night that leaves her hysterically crying and tells her friends she has to leave.
In the morning, the Eagle held an assembly, telling the students of Alaska’s death. Her car crashed into a police cruiser at the scene of a truck accident on the highway, the steering wheel crushing her chest. The Colonel and Pudge feel horrible, feeling they helped her death by letting her go. They find out the only way it could have happened was if she tried to squeeze through the truck and a police cruiser or if she did it on purpose, committing suicide. This causes them to wonder if they really are to blame or not.
The issues of sex and suicide are at the core of the book and are why the book has sustained many challenges.
John Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award presented by the American Library Association.