Looking for Alaska by John Green
Published by Speak on December 28, 2006
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy 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. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .After. Nothing is ever the same.
I read this book because I knew that one of my students read it several times a year and loved it. I wanted to know what drew her to this book so much that at one point she stole it from the school library and refused to let it go. I did not read this book as a way to understand something that had happened in my own life. I did not read this book to help myself grieve and work through some of the emotional parts of losing a student in a tragic car accident only four months ago. I'm grateful for the ways that this novel, particular the ending, helped me to do so. The situation was definitely very different, but the healing was much the same.
Green's characters are absolutely exquisite. I was enraptured by how realistic all of them are. In fact, I pictured several of my own students acting just the way that Pudge, the Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, and Lara would. This intricate characterization held me so close to the book that I loathed having to set it down to go to bed. I grabbed this novel at every moment I possibly could.
Of all the characters, Pudge was my favorite. Instead of having a main character who is forced to feel a certain way because the novel needs him/her to, Pudge's emotions are real and raw. At no time did I sense that he was simply written into the part. My favorite ting about Pudge is the way that he is constantly seeking more. He would have been able to happily stay in Florida and could have escaped both the love and pain that were Alaska Young. I think, however, that he truly came to life because of her.
The relationship between Alaska and Pudge bothered me just a little bit, but I'm sure that it was meant to. It seems that Alaska has no real shame about leading Pudge on, whether she's drunk or not. However, I hated this as much as I loved it. After all, no person and no relationship are perfect. There are several Alaska's in the world. This layer of their relationship and Alaska's character lent another level of reality to the novel.
Despite desperately trying not to include spoilers, I must add that my absolute favorite part of this novel was the end. Not because it was finally over, but because this is where Pudge really matured emotionally. This is where he brings up the answers to a lot of questions that anyone who has ever dealt with a death needs to hear. It is the most natural and most poetic conclusion possible.
I will be reading this book again and again, but have not yet decided if I will put a copy in my classroom. While I believe that this book can and will help students through difficult times in their lives, I'm not sure that I want to have 6th and 7th graders easily reach this book. I'm not sure what our community standards have to say about a book including underage sex, drinking, and delinquent behavior. If any teachers are reading this, please leave a comment with your suggestions! I would love to hear how you have handled this in your classroom.