Looking For Alaska
by John Green
Miles Halter is a quiet high school student in Florida until he takes his father’s advice and goes to a boarding school in Alabama. Now the skinny and shy overachiever– nicknamed Pudge by his roommate– finds himself in an entirely new world filled with complicated and mysterious character who drink, smoke, and prank their ways to renown. Quickly Pudge is drawn into their world and finds a niche for himself within the quirky social hierarchy. After a prank played on Pudge by a group of Weekend Warriors gets out of hand, his roommate, the Colonel, takes him under his wing and begins plotting their revenge. Miles is fascinated with fellow boarder, Alaska Young, who is attractive, mysterious, and clearly psychologically damaged. The two bond over a love of words– she has a life library and he collects last words– and though she has a boyfriend, a flirtation ensues. As Miles navigates the social structure of his new home, a series of pranks cement his place within his group of friends and at the school. When the school suffers a tragedy, however, Miles must rely on those bonds to find purchase on the slippery path of the labyrinth of youth.
At its heart, Looking for Alaskais a story of survival despite extraordinary circumstances. Many plot layers add to the maturity and depth of the novel, and older teens will relate to the collection of quirky and fascinating characters. Green excels at creating realistic, flawed characters that readers will respond to on many levels. Though told entirely from Mile’s perspective, each character comes to life on the page and the female and male characters are equally well drawn.
Parents may be dismayed by the frank discussion of teen sexuality and alcohol use, but the novel provides an excellent segue way into difficult conversations. The characters take responsibility for their actions and often suffer real consequences. While the students are frequently involved in unsavory behaviors, each maintains an excellent academic record. Intelligence is portrayed as neither nerdy nor cool, but just another aspect of life. The most intelligent characters are often the most colorful as well, and Green makes no apologies for creating adult and young characters who show mutual respect and irritation. Adults run the gambit from supportive to absent, from authoritative to dismissive. As the teens come to terms with the difficult situations in the novel, adults are both aids and hinderences, and ultimately they are portrayed as caring individuals who honestly want to support the well being of the students.
In the end, Looking for Alaska may leave some readers with more questions than answers, but this serves to reflect the harsh reality of life and any other ending would feel cheap and unearned. Parents, please do not disregard this novel based on the inclusion of “adult” behaviors. Young people face situations like those illustrated in this story every day and reading about a peer’s experience may be an asset as these youth grow into responsible, capable adults. Please discuss these themes with your children, however difficult it may be. You will both be glad you did.