Looking for Alaska

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Looking for Alaska
AuthorJohn Green
Cover artistNolan Gadient
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreYoung adult novel
PublisherDutton Juvenile
Publication date
2005
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages221
ISBN0-525-47506-0
OCLC55633822
LC ClassPZ7.G8233 Lo 2005
 
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Looking for Alaska
AuthorJohn Green
Cover artistNolan Gadient
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreYoung adult novel
PublisherDutton Juvenile
Publication date
2005
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages221
ISBN0-525-47506-0
OCLC55633822
LC ClassPZ7.G8233 Lo 2005

Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel by John Green, published in March 2005 by Dutton Juvenile, which, being his first novel, 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 7 years) after it was released.[2]

Synopsis[edit]

Looking for Alaska opens as the narrator, Miles Halter, leaves his home in Florida to attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama for his junior year. He uses Francois Rabelais’s last words—"I go to seek a Great Perhaps"—as his argument for choosing boarding school at such a late age. Miles is fond of reading biographies, and particularly of memorizing the subjects' last words.

Soon after arriving at Culver Creek, Miles meets his roommate, Chip "The Colonel" Martin. The Colonel soon provides Miles with his very own nickname: "Pudge," ironic as Miles is tall and slender. Miles is later introduced to the Colonel’s friend, Alaska Young. Alaska is described as an attractive yet emotionally unstable girl. Besides Alaska, the Colonel also introduces him to Takumi, a student of Japanese descent. Alaska tells Pudge about Simon Bolivar's last words, which were "Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" Miles asks her what the labyrinth is and she tells him that's the mystery. After they joke about Alaska having a boyfriend and Pudge being single they make a deal: if Miles figures out what the labyrinth is then Alaska will get him laid.

The eve of his first day at Culver Creek, (the school part), Pudge is grabbed out of his bed, duct-taped, and tossed into a nearby lake by the "Weekday Warriors," a group of rich Birmingham-area students of Culver Creek. The reason the Weekday Warriors duct-taped Pudge is because the year before one of their friends, Paul, had been expelled and they blamed the Colonel and his friends. Takumi insists this can't be possible because Marya, a friends of theirs, had also been expelled with him for committing three of Culver Creek's worst offenses: being naked in bed together, drunk, and smoking a joint. This argument incites a prank war between the Weekday Warriors and Pudge's group of friends. Alaska later admits she told on Marya and Paul to the dean of the school, Mr. Starnes, who The Colonel nicknamed 'The Eagle', to save herself from being expelled.

Alaska sets Pudge up with a girl, Lara. Lara came to America from Romania when she was twelve. She had to translate everything to her parents because she was the only one in her family who knew English. 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 drink, smoke, and do many things together, causing him to fall in love with her, despite the complications of their relationships. The Colonel and Alaska have been planning a pre-prank to lull the Warriors into a state of peace. The weekend of the pre-prank Pudge and his friends head to the old barn by the school. Takumi and Pudge light firecrackers by the Eagle's house, causing him to run after them. The Colonel and Alaska would change the Warriors' grades on their report cards. And, finally, Lara put blue dye in the Warriors' shampoo and hair gel. The next day, while they're still at the barn, they drink, smoke and try to pass the time. While inebriated, Alaska tells them about her mother's death from an aneurysm when she was eight years old. She feels guilty for not calling 911, though she did not understand what was happening at the time. Pudge figures that her mother's death made Alaska impulsive and rash. He concluded that the labyrinth was a person's suffering and that we must find our way out. When they return to school, the Colonel and Alaska celebrate their prank by drinking every night of the next week. On the last night of these 'celebrations', Alaska dares Pudge to "hook up" with her, and they begin making out. After warnings from an intoxicated Colonel, she stops, telling him she's too sleepy, and they can leave it "to be continued". Then they all fell asleep. Alaska received a phone call in the middle of the night that leaves her hysterically crying and tells her friends she has to leave. The Colonel and Pudge help Alaska drive off school premises by setting off the remaining fire crackers from the initial prank on the Weekday Warriors. Alaska drives away, still drunk. She eventually crashes into a police cruiser at the scene of a truck accident on the highway, the steering wheel crushing her chest and killing her instantly.

In the morning, the Eagle holds an assembly, informing the students of Alaska's death. The Colonel and Pudge are devastated, feeling they contributed to her death by letting her leave and drive off campus. They find out the only way it could have happened was if she tried to squeeze through the truck and a police cruiser or if she did it on purpose, committing suicide. This causes them to wonder if they really are to blame or not. 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 to, still clinging to the hope that Alaska wanted to be with him. They argue, the Colonel saying Pudge only loved the 'fun' side of Alaska, not all of her. Afterward, they make up, with Pudge realizing it's true and the Colonel confessing he's just angry and looking for someone to blame. They've been ignoring Takumi and Lara for a long time and apologize to them too (though Lara and Pudge don't seem to get back together). As a way of celebrating Alaska's life they plan the last prank. On Speaker Day the junior and senior classes are supposed to choose someone—a lawyer or small politician—to come speak to them. All of the junior class—Weekday Warriors, Pudge's friends, and everyone else—help with the prank. They convince the Eagle to let a friend of Pudge's dad to come speak of how sex is perceived by adolescents. In reality they hire a male stripper. When the man starts to give his speech Takumi starts the music. The man shouts “This one's for Alaska Young!” and strips in front of everyone. The whole school finds it hilarious, even the Eagle who doesn't punish them. Pudge finds Alaska's copy of The General in his Labyrinth with the labyrinth quote underlined. In the margin was written 'straight and fast'. Later they remember what date Alaska's mom had died and realize Alaska died the morning after. They figure one of two things happened. Alaska remembered the anniversary of her mother's death and came to the room sobbing that she had to go, referring to her mother's grave. But it was already after midnight, the next day. She was drunk and angry at herself. When she saw the truck and the police cruiser she was either drunk enough that she thought she could pass through or she was so angry with herself that she committed suicide, taking the 'straight and fast' way out. The last day of school Takumi confesses in a note that he was the last person to see Alaska alive, he let her go too. Pudge realizes that this doesn't matter, their letting her go doesn't matter as much anymore. He forgives Alaska for going and knows that she forgives him for letting her go.

Characters[edit]

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 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, moody, 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, as well as dealing in cigarettes and alcohol.
Chip Martin
Five feet tall but "built like Adonis", he is Alaska's best friend and Miles' roommate. His nickname, the Colonel, comes from his 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 MC/hip-hop enthusiast, and friend of Alaska and Chip, who often feels left out of Miles, Chip, and Alaska's plans.
Lara Buterskaya
A Romanian immigrant. She is Alaska's friend and eventually became Miles' ex-girlfriend.
Mr. Starnes
The stern Dean of Students at Culver Creek. He is nicknamed "The Eagle" by all the students of the campus. He is pranked by Miles, Chip, Alaska and Takumi multiple times throughout the novel.

Background[edit]

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.[3][4]

According to John Green himself at a book talk in Rivermont Collegiate on October 19, 2006, 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.[5] Green has also stated, while giving a talk at Indian Springs, that several of Culver Creek's teachers are direct caricatures of multiple faculty members at Indian Springs.

Controversy[edit]

The book has been challenged for content dealing with sexually explicit situations.[6] Two teachers at Depew High School near Buffalo, New York, used the book for eleventh grade instruction. A letter was sent to parents advising 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 on his vlog.[7]

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 class required reading list for Knox County High Schools on the grounds that its sex scene and its use of profanity rendered it pornography.[8]

The main characters in the story are teenagers who also drink, smoke and use explicit language.[9] Green has publicly defended his work.[10] "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."[11] 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."[12]

Cover design[edit]

In August 2012,[13] Green revealed details regarding the cover design of Looking for Alaska. Green acknowledged the fact that the supposedly extinguished candle did lead to an "improbable amount of smoke", and thus revealed that the initial cover design did not feature the candle. Green then revealed that certain book chains were uncomfortable about displaying or selling the book because they did not want to encourage what looked like cigarette smoke - which Green revealed was the actual 'cause' of the smoke. Thus, book chains added the candle beneath the smoke so that they weren't promoting smoking.

In John Green's box set, released on October 25, 2012, the candle element of the cover of Looking for Alaska has been removed, and features the original cover design. 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 OC),[14] but due to a lack of interest by Paramount, the production had been shelved indefinitely.[15] 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 June 25, 2014, John Green announced that Sarah Polley will be writing the screenplay and directing the upcoming film.[16]

Footnotes[edit]

  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. ^ Mendelsohn, Aline (2005-02-21). "From Last Words to First Book". The Orlando Sentinel. 
  4. ^ Green, John. "Questions about Looking for Alaska (SPOILERS!): Questions about Writing and Inspiration". http://johngreenbooks.com. 
  5. ^ YouTube - John Green's Legendary High School Prank
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Green, John. "I Am Not A Pornographer". Vlogbrothers Channel. Published as a YouTube video. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Corbett, Sue (2005-09-05). "Why YA and Why Not: Blurring the Line Between Traditionally Distinct Markets.". Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  10. ^ Green, John. "John Green's Weblog: I Am Not a Pornographer". Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  11. ^ MacPherson, Karen (2006-11-07). "John Green: From Bad Boy to Printz Award Winner". Scripps Howard News Service. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ YouTube - Vlogbrothers, "In Which the Candle Dies" retrieved 28-Aug-12
  14. ^ "Interview with Josh Schwartz". Summer 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "John Green New York Times Bestselling Author - Movie Questions". Retrieved 15 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "John Green - Twitter". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
How I Live Now
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
2006
Succeeded by
American Born Chinese