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
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 223
ISBN 0-525-47506-0
OCLC 55633822
LC Class PZ7.G8233 Lo 2005

Looking for Alaska is John Green's first novel, published in March 2005 by Dutton Juvenile. It 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 seven years) after it was released.[2]


Miles Halter leaves his home in Florida to attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama for his junior year. He uses François Rabelais’s last words—"I go to seek a Great Perhaps"[3]—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 Miles's slender physical appearance. He then introduces Pudge to his friends Takumi Hikohito and Alaska Young. Takumi is a gifted emcee/hip-hop enthusiast, and Alaska Young is a beautiful, but emotionally unstable, girl. After hearing Pudge's obsessions with famous last words, Alaska informs him of Simón Bolívar's final words: "Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!"[4] Miles asks her what the labyrinth is and the two make a deal: if Pudge figures out what the labyrinth is, Alaska will find him a girlfriend.

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 who attend Culver Creek. The Colonel, Alaska, and Takumi explain that 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 because 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 of pranks in a row to intimidate the Warriors. They set off a series of firecrackers 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 send out fake progress reports to the Warriors’ parents. 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. Pudge and the Colonel agree to help her leave the school premises by distracting Mr Starnes with another set of fireworks. A drunk Alaska drives away and gets into a car accident that 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. 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 an Alaska that Pudge made up in his head, not who Alaska really was. 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, the Colonel, Takumi, and Lara team up with the Weekday Warriors to hire a male stripper to speak at Culver's Speaker Day. The whole school finds it hilarious, including Mr. Starnes. 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 concludes 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, and he let her go as well. Pudge realizes that this doesn't matter, that letting her go doesn't matter as much anymore. He forgives Alaska for dying, as he knows Alaska would forgive him for letting her go.


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, 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, including providing them with cigarettes and alcohol.
Chip Martin
Five feet tall but "built like a scale model of Adonis",[5] he is Alaska's best friend and Miles' roommate. His nickname, the Colonel, comes from him 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 emcee/hip-hop enthusiast and friend of Alaska and Chip. He often feels left out of Miles', Chip's, and Alaska's plans.
Lara Buterskaya
A Romanian immigrant. She is Alaska's friend and eventually becomes Miles' ex-girlfriend. She is described as having a light accent.
Mr. Starnes
The stern Dean of Students at Culver Creek. He is nicknamed "The Eagle" by all of the students. He is pranked by Miles, Chip, Alaska and Takumi multiple times throughout the novel.
Alaska's boyfriend, who lives too far away for Alaska's liking.


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.[6][7]

John Green discussed at a book talk in Rivermont Collegiate on October 19, 2006 that 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.[8] Green has also stated that several of Culver Creek's teachers are direct caricatures of multiple faculty members at Indian Springs.


The book has been challenged for content dealing with sexually explicit situations.[9] 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 in his vlog.[10]

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 classes' required reading lists for Knox County High Schools on the grounds that its sex scene and its use of profanity rendered it pornography.[11]

The main characters in the story are teenagers who also drink, smoke, and use explicit language.[12] Green has publicly defended his work.[13] "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."[14] 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."[15]

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.[16]

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 O.C.),[17] but due to a lack of interest by Paramount, the production had been shelved indefinitely.[18] 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 February 27, 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, including Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen under their production banner Temple Hill Entertainment, the same screenwriters and producers for the The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns adaptations, would once again be writing the screenplay and producing for the film.[19] Paramount was actively casting the latest version of the screenplay, which was written by Sarah Polley.[20][21] Rebecca Thomas is set to direct.[22] Green also confirmed that Neustadter and Weber are still involved with the film.[23] In August 2015, it was announced filming would begin in the fall in Michigan.[24] It was later announced that filming would begin in early 2016 because of lack of casting decisions.


  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. ^ Green, John (28 December 2006). Looking for Alaska. Penguin Young Readers Group. p. 14. ISBN 9780142402511. 
  4. ^ Green, John (28 December 2006). Looking for Alaska. Penguin Young Readers Group. p. 25. ISBN 9780142402511. 
  5. ^ Green, John (28 December 2006). Looking for Alaska. p. 18. ISBN 9780142402511. 
  6. ^ Mendelsohn, Aline (2005-02-21). "From Last Words to First Book". The Orlando Sentinel. 
  7. ^ Green, John. "Questions about Looking for Alaska (SPOILERS!): Questions about Writing and Inspiration". 
  8. ^ John Green's Legendary High School Prank. YouTube. 8 December 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Green, John. "I Am Not A Pornographer". Vlogbrothers Channel. Published as a YouTube video. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Corbett, Sue (2005-09-05). "Why YA and Why Not: Blurring the Line Between Traditionally Distinct Markets.". Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  13. ^ Green, John. "John Green's Weblog: I Am Not a Pornographer". Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  14. ^ MacPherson, Karen (2006-11-07). "John Green: From Bad Boy to Printz Award Winner". Scripps Howard News Service. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ In Which the Candle Dies. YouTube. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  17. ^ "Interview with Josh Schwartz". Summer 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "John Green New York Times Bestselling Author - Movie Questions". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  19. ^ "'Fault in Our Stars' Writers, Producers Reuniting for Next John Green Adaptation (Exclusive)". Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Sarah Polley will adapt and direct John Green's 'Looking for Alaska'". Entertainment Weekly's EW.com. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  21. ^ "Breakdown Express". talentrep.breakdownexpress.com. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  22. ^ "Rebecca Thomas to direct adaptation of John Green's Looking for Alaska". Entertainment Weekly. 24 June 2015. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  23. ^ vlogbrothers (2015-06-30), "Some News", Youtube, retrieved 2016-01-22 
  24. ^ Christine (August 8, 2015). "John Green's 'Looking for Alaska' will film in Michigan this fall". On Location Vacations. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 


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


  • Green, John (28 December 2006). Looking for Alaska. Penguin Young Readers Group. ISBN 9780142402511. 

External links[edit]

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