Looking for Alaska

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Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska original cover.jpg
Author John Green
Cover artist Nolan Gadient
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult novel
Publisher Dutton Juvenile
Publication date
2005
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 221
ISBN 0-525-47506-0
OCLC 55633822
LC Class PZ7.G8233 Lo 2005

Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel by John Green, published in March 2005 by Dutton Juvenile, which, being his first novel, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association.[1] During the week of July 29, 2012, Looking for Alaska broke into the New York Times best seller list at number ten in Children's Paperback, 385 weeks (more than 7 years) after it was released.[2]

Synopsis[edit]

Miles Halter leaves 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 last words of famous people.

Soon after arriving at Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate, Chip "The Colonel" Martin. The Colonel nicknames Miles "Pudge", due to Mile's slender physical appearance and introduces Pudge to his friends Takumi and Alaska Young, a beautiful but emotionally unstable girl. After hearing Pudge's obsessions with famous last words, Alaska informs him of Simon Bolivar's final words: "Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" Miles asks her what the labyrinth is and the two make a deal: if Pudge figures out what the labryinth is, Alaska will arrange sex for him.

On his first night at Culver Creek, Pudge is kidnapped and thrown into a nearby lake by the Weekday Warriors, a group of rich Birmingham-area students of Culver Creek. The Colonel, Alaska, and Takumi explain the Weekday Warriors hate them because they blame The Colonel and his friends for the expulsion of their friend Paul. However, Takumi insists that they are innocent as their friend Marya was also expelled with Paul. Later, Alaska admits that she told on Marya and Paul to the dean of the school, Mr. Starnes, to save herself from being punished.

Alaska sets Pudge up with a Romanian classmate, Lara. Unfortunately, Pudge and Lara have a disastrous date, which ends with Pudge having a mild concussion and throwing up on Lara's pants. Alaska and Pudge grow closer and he begins to fall in love with her, although she insists on keeping their relationship platonic. The Colonel and Alaska decide to pull a series a pranks in a row to intimidate the Warriors. They set off a series of fire crackers near Mr. Starnes' house, which causes him to leave the building to investigate the noise. Then, Alaska and The Colonel sneak inside and use Mr. Starnes' computer to change the Warrior's grades. Finally, Lara puts blue hair dye in the Warrior's shampoo and hair gel. The gang celebrates their victory by drinking and partying at the old barn by the school. While inebriated, Alaska tells her friends about her mother's death from an aneurysm when she was eight years old. She admits that she still feels guilty for not calling 911, even though she did not understand what was happening at the time. Pudge figures that her mother's death made Alaska impulsive and rash. He concludes that the labyrinth was a person's suffering and that humans must try to find their way out.

When they return to school, the Colonel and Alaska celebrate their successful pranks by drinking every night of the next week. On the last night of these 'celebrations', Alaska and Pudge kiss and are about to have sex. However, she is too sleepy to continue and asks to leave it "to be continued". Pudge agrees and they fall asleep together. In the middle of the night, Alaska receives a phone call which causes her to go into hysterics. She insists that she has to leave and Pudge and The Colonel agree to help her leave the school premises by distracting the campus with another set of fireworks. A still drunk Alaska drives away and gets into a car accident, which kills her instantly.

In the morning, Mr. Starnes holds an assembly to inform the students of Alaska's death. The Colonel and Pudge are devastated and blame themselves for her death. However, they learn that Alaska might have deliberately crashed her car as a suicide attempt. The Colonel becomes angry and insists on questioning Alaska's boyfriend Jake but Pudge refuses, clinging to the hope that Alaska did love him. They argue and The Colonel accuses Pudge of only feeling they contributed to her death by letting her leave and drive off campus. 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. If she did commit suicide, then the Colonel believes she was selfish in making them help her. The Colonel insists on questioning Jake, her boyfriend, but Pudge refuses, fearing that he might learn that Alaska never loved him. They argue and the Colonel accuses Pudge of only loving the "fun" side of Alaska. Pudge realizes that he did only love an idealized version of Alaska and the two make up.

As a way of celebrating Alaska's life, Pudge and his friend team up with the Weekday Warriors to hire a male stripper to speak at Culver's Speaker Day. The whole school finds it hilarious and even Mr. Starnes does not punish them. Pudge finds Alaska's copy of "The General in His Labyrinth" with the labyrinth quote underlined. and notices the words "straight and fast" written in the margins. He remembers Alaska died on the morning after the anniversary of her mother's death and conclude that Alaska felt guilty for not visiting her mother's grave. In her rush, she might have been trying to reach the cemetery or might have committed suicide out of guilt. On the last day of school Takumi confesses in a note that he was the last person to see Alaska alive and feels guilty for letting her go. Pudge realizes that this doesn't matter, their letting her go doesn't matter as much anymore. He forgives Alaska for dying.

Characters[edit]

Miles Halter
The novel's protagonist, who has an unusual interest in learning famous people's last words. He goes to the boarding school Culver Creek in search of his own "Great Perhaps". Tall and skinny, his friends at Culver ironically nickname him "Pudge". He is sexually and emotionally attracted to Alaska Young, who for most of the novel has a mixed relationship, mostly not returning his feelings. He is frequently compared to Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Alaska Young
The wild, moody, unpredictable, beautiful and enigmatic girl who captures Miles' attention and heart. She acts as a confidante to her friends, frequently assisting them in personal matters, as well as dealing in cigarettes and alcohol.
Chip Martin
Five feet tall but "built like Adonis", he is Alaska's best friend and Miles' roommate. His nickname, the Colonel, comes from his being the strategic mastermind behind the schemes that Alaska concocts. Coming from a poor background, he is obsessed with loyalty and honor, especially towards his beloved mother Dolores who lives in a trailer.
Takumi Hikohito
A surprisingly gifted MC/hip-hop enthusiast, and friend of Alaska and Chip, who often feels left out of Miles, Chip, and Alaska's plans.
Lara Buterskaya
A Romanian immigrant. She is Alaska's friend and eventually became Miles' ex-girlfriend.
Mr. Starnes
The stern Dean of Students at Culver Creek. He is nicknamed "The Eagle" by all the students of the campus. He is pranked by Miles, Chip, Alaska and Takumi multiple times throughout the novel.

Background[edit]

John Green, author of Looking for Alaska, in 2014

Green attended Indian Springs School, a boarding and day school outside of Birmingham, Alabama. During the time he was a student there, a student died under circumstances similar to the character of Alaska.[3][4]

According to John Green himself at a book talk in Rivermont Collegiate on October 19, 2006, he got the idea of Takumi's "fox hat" from a Filipino friend who wore a similar hat while playing pranks at Indian Springs School. From the same book talk, Green also stated that the "possessed" swan in Culver Creek came from his student life at Indian Springs School as well, where there was also a swan of similar nature on the campus. The two pranks that occur in the book are similar to pranks that Green pulled at his high school.[5] Green has also stated, while giving a talk at Indian Springs, that several of Culver Creek's teachers are direct caricatures of multiple faculty members at Indian Springs.

Controversy[edit]

The book has been challenged for content dealing with sexually explicit situations.[6] Two teachers at Depew High School near Buffalo, New York, used the book for eleventh grade instruction. A letter was sent to parents advising them that the book contained controversial content. An alternate reading selection was available for those opting out, and a small percentage of parents chose this option. Nevertheless, the book was challenged on the grounds that it is "pornographic" and "disgusting". One parent even went as far as refusing to read the book himself, reportedly saying that "One does not need to have cancer to diagnose cancer". The book was ultimately kept in the curriculum by the school board after a unanimous school board vote. Green defended his book on his blog.[7]

In March 2012, The Knoxville Journal in Knoxville, Tennessee, reported that a parent of a 15-year-old Karns High School student objected to the book's placement on the Honors and Advanced Placement class required reading list for Knox County High Schools on the grounds that its sex scene and its use of profanity rendered it pornography.[8]

The main characters in the story are teenagers who also drink, smoke and use explicit language.[9] Green has publicly defended his work.[10] "Some people say, 'You wrote a dirty, dirty book.' But there are very old-fashioned values and even a lot of religion in it," Green said. "There are some adults who think that the only kind of ethics that matter are sexual ethics. So they miss everything else that is going on in the book."[11] Green also said, "The book has never been marketed to 12-year-olds. Never. It is packaged like an adult book; it doesn't even say it's published by a kids' book imprint on the cover, and it's never shelved in the children's section of bookstores."[12]

Cover design[edit]

In August 2012, Green revealed details regarding the cover design of Looking for Alaska. Green acknowledged that the extinguished candle on the cover leads to "an improbable amount of smoke", and explained that the initial cover design did not feature the candle. Green said that certain book chains were uncomfortable with displaying or selling a book with a cover that featured cigarette smoke, so the candle was added beneath the smoke.[13]

In John Green's box set, released on October 25, 2012, the candle has been removed from the cover. Further paperback releases of the book also have the candle removed.

Film adaptation[edit]

The film rights to the novel were acquired by Paramount Pictures in 2005. The screenplay was potentially going to be written and directed by Josh Schwartz (creator of The OC),[14] but due to a lack of interest by Paramount, the production had been shelved indefinitely.[15] It has been reported that Paramount is putting the screenplay in review due to the success of the film adaptation of Green's breakout novel, The Fault in Our Stars. On June 25, 2014, John Green announced that Sarah Polley will be writing the screenplay and directing the upcoming film.[16]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ American Library Association (2010). "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  2. ^ "Children's Paperback Books". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Mendelsohn, Aline (2005-02-21). "From Last Words to First Book". The Orlando Sentinel. 
  4. ^ Green, John. "Questions about Looking for Alaska (SPOILERS!): Questions about Writing and Inspiration". http://johngreenbooks.com. 
  5. ^ YouTube - John Green's Legendary High School Prank
  6. ^ Winchester, Laura E (2008-02-06). "Depew School Board Committee Will Review 'Coming-of-Age' Novel". The Buffalo News. Archived from the original on 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  7. ^ Green, John. "I Am Not A Pornographer". Vlogbrothers Channel. Published as a YouTube video. 
  8. ^ Hall, Wes (2012-03-09). "Pornographic required reading in Knox Schools?". The Knoxville Journal. Archived from the original on 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  9. ^ Corbett, Sue (2005-09-05). "Why YA and Why Not: Blurring the Line Between Traditionally Distinct Markets.". Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  10. ^ Green, John. "John Green's Weblog: I Am Not a Pornographer". Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  11. ^ MacPherson, Karen (2006-11-07). "John Green: From Bad Boy to Printz Award Winner". Scripps Howard News Service. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  12. ^ Green, John (2006-03-28). "What to do About Sexually Explicit Teen Books?" (Blog). AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom. AS IF!. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  13. ^ YouTube - Vlogbrothers, "In Which the Candle Dies" retrieved 28-Aug-12
  14. ^ "Interview with Josh Schwartz". Summer 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "John Green New York Times Bestselling Author - Movie Questions". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "John Green - Twitter". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 

References[edit]

  • Bob Carlton (2005-03-13). "One-time Indian Springs student finds his way in first novel". 

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
How I Live Now
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
2006
Succeeded by
American Born Chinese