Looking For Alaska (Printz Award Winner)

Miles “Pudge” Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.”
Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.
John Green’s stunning debut marks the arrival of a stand-out new voice in young adult fiction.

One thought on “Looking For Alaska (Printz Award Winner)

  1. G.Prichard & M.Ebersole says:

    In general, My Take/Your Take does not deal with themes. The intent is to simply have two readers respond to the same book, giving readers of WOW a chance to see multiple perspectives. In an interesting twist, three of the five books discussed this month deal, at least partially, with the suicide of an adolescent and the impact of that death on family, friends, and others. Looking for Alaska by John Green is the third of these books. I first read this book—and was introduced to Green’s writings—on its debut in 2005. It was one of the first “edgy” books, published in the United States, I had read. I remember being “stunned” by this “stunning debut.” I was living in Tuscaloosa and probably picked it up because it is set in Alabama—but there the similarity between my life and the characters ends—at least back in 2005.

    The novel is divided into two sections: Before and After. Before begins with “one hundred thirty-six days before…” (p.3). It’s not long before I figured out something was going to happen to Alaska; and it was not long after that realization, before I knew what the “something” was—Alaska was going to die.

    Most of us have known “Alaskas” in our life. My “Alaska” friend, I met in college. She was larger than life, a risk-taker, would do anything, say everything, and was gorgeous. She was full of energy and attracted people to her like a moth to a flame. I’ve always been a gregarious type person, but I paled in comparison to Susan. I envied her zest for life without a care for what anyone said or thought about her. While I converted to Catholicism many years later, it was fated—I was born feeling guilty. I couldn’t be too wild, couldn’t say everything I wanted, and I did care about what others thought of me. I felt guilty about almost everything! But I was certainly along for Susan’s train ride.

    Fortunately, Susan’s train did not crash, just slightly derailed. She eventually decided she did care; she graduated from college, married the right guy (after the wrong one), and has two equally beautiful daughters, and is now secretary of her church, ironic, right? I still admire her, probably even more. She had her cake and she ate it, too. Unlike Susan, Alaska’s train–make that car–crashed. The big question in Part 2, After, is whether or not it was intentional.

    While Part 1 counted down to Alaska’s death, Part 2 counts forward. 136 days after Alaska’s car crash, Pudge, the narrator of the novel, and his friends the Colonel and Takumi decide to quit chasing ghosts. Pudge says, “I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts. If you take Alaska’s genetic code and you add her life experiences and the relationships she had with people, and then you take the size and shape of her body, you do not get her. There is something else entirely. There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts…” (p.221).

    Those knowable parts Pudge is referring to include understanding Alaska’s extreme exuberance masked her pain, her guilt, her suffering over her mother’s death; realizing
    Alaska blamed herself for her mother’s death; and seeing the evening of her death as Alaska did–realizing she had forgotten it was the anniversary of her mother’s death—a day she commemorated yearly by leaving flowers graveside. Even knowing all of that is not enough to truly know whether the car crash was because she was distraught and drunk or whether it was intentional—her strong desire to be with her mother again. Perhaps one of those greater parts was her intense passion in everything she did—for whatever reasons. Perhaps we gain a glimpse of her greater parts through her “life library;” the collection of books she intended to read; I think I’d like to know those titles. I suspect if someone looked at my collection, they would know more about me than they could ever really see….

    Over the course of the past few weeks we read the adolescent novels, A Troublesome Boy and Orchards, dealing with personal struggles and human suffering. I enjoyed reading this week’s story, Looking for Alaska, along with the others because the paired readings provided points for discussion which deal with common issues (guilt, suffering, search for meaning, identity, healing, suicide, and hope) yet offer multiple perspectives and alternate ways to cope with them.
    Looking for Alaska takes readers inside the head of Miles, a studious and quiet eleventh grader who leaves his safe life at home to attend a prestigious boarding school. His formal education and religious studies directly lead him to question the meaning of life. This serious and deeply significant question is paralleled with his informal education as he learns to take part in acts of typical teenage rebellion – smoking, drinking, and pranking along with his new friends. The male characters in the story find the charming, beautiful, and charismatic character Alaska irresistible as she entices them into an exciting and reckless life. Yet beneath the thrill seeking, readers find that Alaska is haunted by seemingly insurmountable guilt and remorse. Her search to find an answer to her personal question, “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” is a powerful question of emotional survival for many young adults who are working through their own challenges. I was particularly drawn into the story by the author’s unique story structure in which he draws the reader’s attention to one distinct dividing line or moment in the story which changes the lives of the characters forever. This defining moment in the story leads the characters to a new understanding of their world. They must work through their intense feelings of guilt and learn that “we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth.”

    Personally, I appreciated the way that the author crafted the story so that there was a balance between the seriousness of the tragedy and humor. In other words, even though it might seem a bit callous to find humor amidst tragedy, the topic was so heavy that I felt it was important to lighten the tone of the story with humor.

    In the end, the story is filled with hope. Although Miles experiences a deep sense of suffering at the loss of his friend, he is able to believe in what the author calls, “radical hope” or hope for us all, even amid the suffering. I found the hope that the author left the readers with at the end of the story encouraging and even inspiring. After experiencing tragedy it showed the resilience of the human spirit and how one can learn from the mistakes of others and learn to move on. The story leaves the reader with a powerful sense of hope, which I believe is an important message for young readers as they identify with and search for meaning in their own lives.

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