Update—Had to add this sweet video and John Green’s thoughts on the novel.
Since I loved Will Grayson so much, I had to read Looking for Alaska, also by John Green. Like Will Grayson, it’s alternately very funny and very sad; it’s always very edgy. (Yes, it’s on the list of banned/challenged books. Yes, it’s for mature readers, not twelve-year-olds.) The subject matter is different from Will Grayson—and yet still very relevant.
Miles Halter is pretty much a nerd. When he decides to go away to a private boarding school, leaving Florida for Alabama, his mother insists on throwing him a party to which only two people, mere acquaintances, come. And Miles’ goal becomes immediately obvious—he wants to get away and live life more deeply. He wants to explore ‘the great perhaps’ an idea he got from reading the last words of Francois Rabelais. (In fact, Miles loves reading biographies to discover famous last words. And he knows a lot of good quotes of dying men and women. That in itself is really fun to read about.)
As soon as he arrives at Culver Creek Boarding School, Miles begins to understand and live ‘the great perhaps’ because he has met the right people/pranksters: his roommate Chip (‘the Colonel’) and Alaska Young, the beautiful girl with whom he is immediately infatuated. The Colonel nicknames Miles ‘Pudge,’ ironically because he is so skinny.
Alaska is sometimes cheery and manic and at other times moody and brooding. She is a feminist who tutors her friends in pre-calc and who can’t resist a good prank. Away from home, the ‘Pudge-Colonel-Alaska’ trio experiments with many off-limits adult habits. Alaska tells Miles that while other teens smoke because they enjoy it, she does it because it will kill her. Clearly, she is troubled, but for much of the novel, no one knows why. What causes Alaska to be self-destructive?
The novel has two sections—chapters titled ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Miles finds that Alaska is also a seeker but she has used Simon Bolivar’s last words to frame her quest: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” And this, too, is what Miles truly wants to know and must learn.