Looking for Alaska

cover image for Looking for AlaskaGreen, John. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: speak.

Plot Summary:

Miles Halter is in search of “a Great Perhaps” – his phrase, taken from the last words of the poet Francois Rabelais, for the that indefinable, pregnant possibility that adolescence so often thrives on.  He isn’t going to find it in an ordinary public school in Florida, so he convinces his parents to let him go to Culver Creek Boarding school in Alabama.  There he meets Chip, Lara, and Takumi…but most of all Alaska Young.  In which he finds his “Great Perhaps” but not in quite the way that he expected to.

Looking for Alaska is very much a deconstruction of romantic myths, but it is one that is not disdainful of hope and love.  Miles, having fallen for Alaska, keeps looking for hints that he has become as central to Alaska’s world as she has become to his.  In doing so, he overlooks much of what makes the real Alaska tick, a contradiction that Alaska herself is quick to point out.  When tragedy strikes, Miles’ grief pushes him to refocus his efforts rather than step back and examine them critically, a mistake that threatens to tear apart the friendships he has come to value.

Critical Evaluation:

Green’s (and Miles’) clever, snarky, and yet somehow mellow voice is an essential part of this book’s charm.  It is also how Green is able to make readers sympathetic to Miles’ antics while still shaking our heads at his obsession; a more reverent or less erudite approach would have made the tale overly sappy or shallow by turns, rather than acting as a counterpoint to Miles puppy dog love.  Instead, Green is able to invite us to dwell on Alaska’s many charms along with Miles, while still allowing a multi-faceted character to filter in around Miles’ rose colored viewpoint.  All of which becomes incredibly essential when Miles is finally forced to find a truthful and moral balance between his feelings and the needs of those he cares about.

Reader’s Annotation:

Love,  rivalries, and boarding school pranks -what could possibly go wrong?

Author Information:

I’m not sure it’s possible for an author to have a larger web presence than John Green and still be only a minor celebrity.  In addition the usual Twitter and Facebook accounts, Green – along with his brother Hank Green – not only have a regular vlog on YouTube, but have created an entire website/forum/movement they affectionately call Nerdfighters (nerds who fight world suck using their nerd powers, not people who fight nerds).

http://johngreenbooks.com/

http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com

http://www.twitter.com/realjohngreen

http://www.facebook.com/johngreenfans

http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

http://nerdfighters.ning.com/

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

“Welcome to Culver Creek, Mr. Halter.  You’re given a large measure of freedom here.  If you abuse it, you’ll regret it.  I’d hate to have to bid you farewell.”  Miles Halter is pretty that pranks and sneaking out for smokes are not on the dean of students list of approved activities, but he didn’t beg his parents to let him go away to boarding school so that he could spend all his time sitting in his room!

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/ages 15-19

Potential Controversy:

The teens in this book swear get into all kinds of stuff – including drinking – and not all of not all of it comes with negative consequences and none of it comes off as an After School Special kind of lesson.  While this is essential to the book’s strength and appeal, it might also make some adults nervous.  Focusing on this title’s award status as well as it’s nuanced and hardly immoral look at teenage pranks, relationships, and rule breaking should help alleviate most concerns.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Having enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, I was curious to see what made Looking for Alaska even more widely praised.  Green is also one of those authors with a large and devoted enough fan base that I feel I should be familiar with all or most of his works, not simply a single one or two titles.

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