Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska
by John Green

Publishing Information: Penquin Books: New York, 2005
ISBN: 0525475060 / 0142402516 (PB)
Pages: 237 p.
Ages: 14 & Up

Miles "Pudge" Halter is in search of "the great perhaps." He abandons his very ordinary life at his very ordinary high school for his father's alma mater: a boarding school in Alabama. Once there, he gets more than he bargained for; after meeting a very odd, but fun-seeking, intelligent group of pranksters who challenge the rules as well as the upper-class social scene. Not only does Miles finally get some adventure, he falls madly in love with the ever-elusive Alaska. But the fun comes mixed with tragedy, and Miles search for the great-perhaps is bitter-sweet.

Book Talk:
#1 - Most people feel that their life is ordinary and boring, but few people do something about it. Miles Halter is a teen who is fed up with his ordinary life and sets out for something better and more exciting. Spurred on by the famous last words of a French philosopher, Rabelais, Miles abandons his very ordinary public high school in Florida for a boarding school in Alabama. Once there, he meets up with a very different group of students who are extremely intelligent, but rebellious and full of clever pranks. The group is led by a very beautiful, intelligent but elusive and self-destructive girl named Alaska Young. Miles falls in love with her, as do many males around her. Why are some people attracted to the self-destructive type? Think up some reasons why?

#2 - Imagine leaving your high school to start your junior year in a boarding school. What do you think it would be like? Would it be better? Would it be worse? The same? What would prompt someone to make such a drastic change so late in their high school career?

#3 - What kind of school pranks are fun? When do they become dangerous or harmful? Have you ever been involved in a prank?

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Coming of Age
Drugs and Alcohol
High School/Boarding School
Quotations (Last Words)
Risk-taking in Teenagers
School Pranks

Awards & Reviews:
Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, 2005
Booklist Editors' Choice (Books for Youth: Older Readers Category), 2005
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2006
Los Angeles Time Book Award Finalist, 2006

Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2006
School Library Journal Best Books, 2005
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2006
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006

"...Miles is a witty narrator who manages to be credible as the overlooked kid, but he's also an articulate spokesperson for the legions of teen searching for life meaning (his taste for famous last words is a believable and entertaining quirk), and the Colonel's smarts, clannish loyalties, and relentlessly methodological approach to problems make him a true original....There's a certain recursive fitness here, since this is exactly the kind of book that makes kids like Miles certain that boarding school will bring them their destiny, but perceptive readers may also realize that their own lives await the discovery of meaning even as they vicariously experience Miles' quest."
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (Starred Review)

"What sings and soars in this gorgeously told tale is Green's mastery of language and the sweet, rough edges of Pudge's voice. Girls will cry and boys will find love, lust, loss and longing in Alaska's vanilla-and-cigarettes scent."
--Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005 (Starred Review)

"Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author." --Publishers Weekly, February 7, 2005, p. 58

Miles's narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles's A Separate Peace, Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends."
--School Library Journal, February 2005, p. 136 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Was Alaska's death a suicide or an accident? Use examples from the novel to support your answer.
  2. Discuss Miles' fascination with last words. How did this odd fascination help him in his journey of self-discovery?
  3. How is each character in Miles' tight-knit circle of friends different from the average teenager? In which ways are they the same?
  4. Why is the book divided up into a count-down to the tragic event and after? How does this approach to writing a novel hold the reader's interest?
  5. Describe the adults in the novel. Are they a realistic portrayal of the adult world or do they represent a comical view of adults as seen through the eyes of a teenager?
  6. How do you feel about the character of Alaska? Can you understand why Miles is so fascinated with her?

Related Websites:
The Association of Boarding Schools - http://www.schools.com/

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations at the Literature Network - http://www.online-literature.com/quotes/quotations.php

John Green's Website - http://www.sparksflyup.com

Last Words - http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/6537/

Last Words by Wikiquote - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Famous_last_words

Wikipedia: Boarding School - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boarding_school

And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle, 1983
Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Fallout by Daniel Parker, 2002 (Wessex Papers series # 2)
Outsmart by Daniel, Parker, 2002 (Wessex Papers series # 3)
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, 2005
Remembering the Good Times by Richard Peck, 1985

The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat by Amy Gordon, 2004
Trust Falls by Daniel Parker, 2002 (Wessex Papers series # 1)

Other Books by the Author:
An Abundance of Katherines, 2006

About the Author:
John Green attended a boarding school in Alabama not unlike Looking for Alaska’s Culver Creek. After graduating from college in 2000, he worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital. His experiences with patients and their families during intense crises solidified his desire to write for teens and inspired him to bring his comic sensibility to a candid novel about the excitement of breaking the rules and the challenge of confronting loss. John now writes for several national magazines, both print and Web-based. He is also a commentator for National Public Radio’s afternoon newsmagazine, All Things Considered, and Chicago’s NPR affiliate, WBEZ. John Green lives in Chicago, Illinois.