Literature: Looking for Alaska

"I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane."
Miles "Pudge" Halter about Alaska

Looking for Alaska is a Printz Award-winning young adult novel by John Green (his debut novel, in fact). It is a charming Coming-of-Age Story about the main character, Miles "Pudge" (so called because of his infernal skinniness). Pudge has had it with his boring Florida high school, where he has no friends, and has decided to take a chance on the more prestigious Culver Creek high school in Alabama. There, he picks up a smoking habit, thinks about God, and makes friends — the bossy but jovial Colonel, the dry Takumi, sweet and withdrawn Lara, and the beautiful, dangerous Alaska, for whom Pudge falls quickly and soundly.

It's unique for having a two part structure titled "Before" and "After", the "Before" part counting down to the story's climax and the "After" showing the characters reactions.

Tropes present in Looking for Alaska include:

  • Adorkable: Pudge.
  • All Teenagers are Perverts: Played straight through most of the book.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: The generally humorless Eagle's reaction to Alaska's prank.
  • Arc Words: A quotations from Gabriel García Márquez's The General In His Labyrinth: "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" And the the final words of Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a great perhaps".
  • Berserk Button: Alaska flips her shit when the Weekday Warriors flood her room.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Alaska dies in a car accident at the novel's climax. The rest of the novel deals with how all the characters deal with this traumatic event. Generally everything looks up towards the end: the cast flawlessly pulls an incredible prank on Alaska's behalf, and Pudge writing a fairly upbeat solution to Alaska's labyrinth question, but the reader gets the sense that the scars still linger.
  • Broken Bird: Alaska
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Alaska.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Cluster S Bomb would probably be more accurate, but there's still a surprising amount of swearing in a book intended for high-schoolers.
  • Character Development: Miles goes from an, isolated, mild, Extreme Doormat into a considerably more self-aware, moody young man.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Alaska watched her mother die in front of her, too paralysed with fear to do the one thing she could have done to help by calling an ambulance.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: This Michael L. Printz Award winning book features a nerdy young teen who goes to a boarding school and meets a beautiful, adventurous girl with green eyes named Alaska. She has issues about her dead mother, so she drinks and smokes a lot and drives a beat up old car with bad brakes. Need I say what happens to her midway through the novel?
  • Deep-Fried Whatever: The school is in the south, and almost all of the food in the cafeteria is deep-fried.
    • Including burritos, which are actually "bufriedos". How these differ from chimichangas is not elaborated on.
  • Did Not Get the Girl
  • Driven to Suicide: Maybe. It's the ongoing question of the 'after' section.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Alaska, naturally.
  • Escalating War: It starts with a malicious dunking...
  • Everybody Smokes: All the main characters smoke to one degree or another.
  • Famous Last Words: Collecting these is Pudge's hobby, which later turns very symbolic as he never learns what Alaska's were.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: A darker and rare non-romantic version; Alaska forgets the date of her mother's death, and freaks out.
    • Also, that day turned out to be her and Jake's eight month anniversary, which might have prompted her to remember the death.
  • Funetik Aksent: Lara speeks like thees.
  • Green Eyes: Alaska. Miles compares them to emeralds.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Alaska. She even buries wine in the woods so she always has some. And it kills her.
  • Heroic BSOD: Chip and Miles, after Alaska's death. And pretty much everyone else, to a lesser extreme.
  • Insistent Terminology: Lara is Romanian.
  • It's All My Fault: Miles and the Colonel (and Takumi) blame themselves for Alaska's death.
  • Jerkass: Kevin. Miles could have died being thrown into the lake duct-taped, and the only reason they messed with him is because the Colonel is his roommate.
  • Left Fielder: When Lara asks Pudge if he's ever gotten a blowjob. Pudge immediately lampshades this.
  • Love Triangle: Miles himself is totally aware he's in one with Alaska, himself and Lara. In contrast, he imagines that there's a tortured love triangle between himself, Alaska, and her boyfriend, Jake.
    • Even after she dies. He calls it "a love triangle with a dead end."
  • Loving a Shadow: An interesting case, as Miles clearly is infatuated with Alaska, but he himself admits she's right when she points out he only loves the crazy, fun-loving side of her and not her bitchy, out-of-control side. The Colonel also calls Miles out on this after her death, telling him he cares more about his fantasy of Alaska than the real person.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Alaska is a deconstruction of this trope. For one, though Pudge is smitten with her from the start, she is out to have fun and break rules, not to lighten up Pudge's life. Her behavior is also consciously self-destructive, and very dangerous. She even lampshades it when she lists the aspects of her that Miles wants and the ones he doesn't want, pointing out that he wants a "manic pixie" without realising that it's who she is, not a performance for his benefit.
  • Mood-Swinger: Alaska.
  • Moral Guardians: They almost grounded this book because of the swearing, drinking, and intense sexuality of the characters, which indicates possibly that they have never met real teenagers.
  • My Greatest Failure: Alaska blames herself for her mom's death.
    • Likewise, the whole cast develops one after Alaska's greatest failure finally kills her.
  • Nice Hat: Takumi' thing. He calls it The Fox.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Pudge and Colonel would sometimes go into the bathroom together with the shower running to smoke because it's against the rules and the steam supposedly clears the smell. Hilarity Ensues when they're caught.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: A lot of characters.
    • Mostly so the people they're based on can have plausible deniability.
  • Parental Abandonment: The Colonel. His dad walked out on himself and his mother and never came back.
  • Platonic Life Partners: The Colonel and Alaska are portrayed this way.
  • P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl: Pudge and Alaska fit the trope perfectly.
  • Precision F-Strike: Miles unexpectedly delivers one to the Colonel after the Colonel pulls a What the Hell, Hero? on him, telling him, "Why did you let her go, if you loved her so much? I was drunk. What's your excuse?"
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Eagle may be strict, but it's shown many times that he truly does care for the students and the school.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Accident or suicide?
  • Shaggy Dog Story: A fully justified one. Miles and the Colonel never learn conclusively whether or not Alaska's crash was a suicide, but the story isn't about that; it's about them learning to move on from her death, and continuing their investigation means they'll never come to terms with their grief.
  • Smoking Is Cool: All the main characters smoke. The main villain (if he can even be called that), The Eagle, busts them for smoking.
    • Green mentioned that he started smoking at about this time, and in later life had a harder time quitting nicotine gum than transitioning from smoking to the gum. Make of that what you will.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Maxx, the stripper they hire for the prank. He's even called "Max with the two x's" a few times.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Both Alaska and Miles were in relationships when they hooked up shortly before Alaska's death. Miles never admits to Lara that this happened and it is never commented on by anyone.
  • There Are No Therapists: Alaska's friends don't take her "sullen, moody, bitch" side very seriously, neglecting to talk to her about her issues or to tell an adult.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Miles and Alaska. Oh, so much. Remains unresolved due to Alaska's death.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: All of the chapters count off the days until Alaska dies. The rest of the book count forward from her death.
  • Verbing Nouny: The novel's title.
  • Wham Episode: The very beginning of the "after" section when the Eagle announces Alaska's death.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Alaska calls Pudge out because, "Don't you know who you love, Pudge? You love the girl who drinks wine and watches porn with you. You don't love the crazy, sullen bitch."
    • Lara also gives Pudge one when he completely ignores her after Alaska's death. She is much more forgiving of him than he was expecting, though.
    • Both Pudge and The Colonel get one from Takumi, for the same reasons as Lara. At least before Takumi admits he also didn't stop Alaska on the night of her death. He leaves Culver Creek before the other two can talk to him about it, though.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: Gender-inverted with Alaska, the Colonel (Friend), and Pudge (Stranger).

Alternative Title(s):

Looking For Alaska