Looking for Alaska first edition cover
|Cover artist||Nolan Gadient|
|Genre||Young adult novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|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, and led the association's list of most-challenged books for 2015 due to profanity and sexually explicit scenes. The story is told through teenager Miles "Pudge" Halter, as he enrolls at a boarding school to try to gain a deeper perspective on life, and was inspired by Green's experiences as a high school student.
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. As of May 3, 2016[update], it is number four on the New York Times best seller listing for Young Adult Paperback. It spent eighteen weeks at number four.
Miles Halter, obsessed with last words, leaves Florida to attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama for his junior year, quoting François Rabelais's last words: "I go to seek a Great Perhaps". Miles' new roommate, Chip "The Colonel" Martin, ironically nicknames Miles "Pudge" and introduces Pudge to his friends: hip-hop emcee Takumi Hikohito and Alaska Young, a beautiful but emotionally unstable girl. Learning of Pudge's obsession with famous last words, Alaska informs him of Simón Bolívar's: "Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" The two make a deal that if Pudge figures out what the labyrinth is, Alaska will find him a girlfriend. Alaska sets Pudge up with a Romanian classmate, Lara. Unfortunately, Pudge and Lara have a disastrous date, ending with a concussed Pudge throwing up on Lara. Alaska and Pudge grow closer and he begins to fall in love with her, although she insists on keeping their relationship platonic because she has a boyfriend that she insists she loves.
On his first night at Culver Creek, Pudge is kidnapped and thrown into a lake by the "Weekday Warriors," rich schoolmates who blame the Colonel and his friends for the expulsion of their friend, Paul. There is much tension between Pudge's friends and the Weekday Warriors because of Paul's expulsion. Takumi claims that they are innocent because their friend Marya was also expelled during the incident. However, Alaska later admits that she told on Marya and Paul to the dean, Mr. Starnes, to save herself from being punished.
The gang celebrates a series of pranks by drinking and partying, and an inebriated Alaska confides about her mother's death from an aneurysm when she was eight years old. Although she didn't understand at the time, she feels guilty for not calling 911. 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. Afterwards, Pudge grows closer to Lara, and they start dating. A week later, after another 'celebration', an intoxicated Alaska and Pudge spend the night together.
In the middle of the night, Alaska receives a phone call which causes her to go into hysterics, insisting that she has to leave. Pudge and the Colonel distract Mr. Starnes and Alaska drives away while drunk, crashes her car, and dies instantly. The Colonel and Pudge are devastated and blame themselves, but learn that Alaska might have deliberately crashed to kill herself. They discover that Alaska was driving to her mother's grave because she had forgotten her mother's birthday. 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 idealized Alaska that Pudge made up in his head. Pudge realizes the truth of this and reconciles with the Colonel.
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; Mr. Starnes even acknowledges how clever it was. 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 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
- Miles "Pudge" Halter is ironically nicknamed due to the fact that he is tall and skinny. He is the novel's main character, who has an unusual interest in learning famous people's last words. He transfers to the boarding school Culver Creek in search of his own "Great Perhaps". Pudge is attracted to Alaska Young, who for most of the novel has a mixed relationship, mostly not returning his feelings. The character is frequently compared to Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.
- Alaska Young
- Alaska is the wild, unpredictable, beautiful, and enigmatic girl, with a sad backstory, 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. She is described as living in a "reckless world." The second half of the novel focuses around the car accident that took her life and the other characters coping with not knowing if it was an accident or a suicide.
- Chip Martin
- Chip "The Colonel" Martin is five feet tall but "built like a scale model of Adonis", he is Alaska's best friend and Miles' roommate. He is the strategic mastermind behind the schemes that Alaska concocts, and in charge of everyone's nicknames. 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
- Takumi surprisingly gifted Japanese emcee/hip-hop enthusiast and friend of Alaska and Chip. He often feels overlooked in the plans of Miles, Chip, and Alaska. Towards the end of the novel he returns to Japan.
- Lara Buterskaya
- Lara is a Romanian immigrant, she is Alaska's friend and becomes Miles' girlfriend and, eventually, ex-girlfriend. She is described as having a light accent.
- Mr. Starnes
- Mr. Starnes is the stern Dean of Students at Culver Creek, nicknamed "The Eagle" by the students. He is pranked by Miles, Chip, Alaska, Lara and Takumi multiple times throughout the novel.
The novel is heavily based off John Green's early life. As he explains, "I myself was once a guy from Florida who was obsessed with the dying words of famous people and then left home to attend a boarding school in Alabama." He goes on to explain that while the novel is fictional, the setting is not. Green attended Indian Springs School, a boarding and day school outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Culver Creek of Looking for Alaska is Indian Springs School. From the smoking hole to the swing Pudge and Alaska sat on, John Green based the entire setting off of his high school. Characters are loosely based off of his high school experiences, including smoking cigerrates in the woods instead of going to class. While he was enrolled there, a student died under circumstances similar to the character of Alaska. This inspired the plot of the novel.
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. 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. In early April of 2016 the American Library Association named Looking for Alaska on of the most controversial books. Kentucky parents have urged schools to drop it from the curriculum, referring to it as influencing students to; "to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity." Another Kentucky resident went as far as to write to the local paper about the number of curse words in the novel. They described it as "mental pornography."
Two teachers at Depew High School near Buffalo, New York, used the book for eleventh grade instruction in 2008. 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 refused 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, Vlogbrothers.
In March 2012, The Knoxville Journal 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.
The book led the list of the top ten most-challenged books for 2015 (out of 275 titles) in an accounting assembled by the American Library Association. The reasons given: "Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group."
The main characters in the story are teenagers who also drink, smoke, and use explicit language. Green has publicly defended his work. "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." 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."
Further controversy came from the cover design. In August 2012, 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. 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.
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.) but, due to a lack of interest by Paramount, the production had been shelved indefinitely. It had been reported that Paramount was 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, screenwriters for Temple Hill Entertainment who had worked on adaptations for The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, would be writing and executive producing for the film. Paramount was actively casting the latest version of the screenplay, which was written by Sarah Polley. Rebecca Thomas was set to direct. Green also confirmed that Neustadter and Weber were still involved with the film. In August 2015, it was announced filming would begin in the fall in Michigan. It was later announced that filming would begin in early 2016 because of lack of casting decisions. Later in 2016, John Green announced in a Vlogbrother's video and on social media that the film adaption has once again been shelved indefinitely. John Green explained, "It has always fallen apart of one reason or another."
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