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Literature / Looking for Alaska

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"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 Young

Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel by John Green, and his debut novel. It was released in 2005 and won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award, and tells the Coming of Age Story of a boy named Miles Halter, who is nicknamed "Pudge" (so called because of his infernal skinniness) and has a hobby of memorizing the last words of famous people.

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, inspired by the last words of French writer Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." There, he picks up a smoking habit, thinks about God, and makes friends — the bossy but jovial Colonel, the dry Takumi, the sweet and withdrawn Lara, and the beautiful, dangerous Alaska Young, the lattermost for whom Pudge falls quickly and soundly.

The book is unique for having Unusual Chapter Numbers based around a two-part structure: "Before", which counts down the days to the story's climax, and "After", which shows the characters' reactions to it. The style was inspired by a habit Green observed of people viewing their histories through the lenses of before and after important events, and by extension newscasters' statements that 9/11 would become such a dividing line for world history.

An official adaptation of Looking for Alaska was in the works for quite some time, with the initial rights to make a film of the book being sold to Paramount shortly after the novel's release. The project was almost instantly backburnered due to lack of interest from the studio, but after the success of Green's breakout novel The Fault in Our Stars and its film adaptation almost a decade later, they reconsidered and the Alaska film began taking shape. It was slated to be directed by Rebecca Thomas with a screenplay by Sarah Polley and set to begin production early in 2016, but saw a perfect storm of issues, including casting and scheduling problems alongside seeming tension between Green and Paramount, that led to it being shelved indefinitely.

However, in May of 2018, Green announced that an Alaska adaptation would finally see the light of day — but for the small screen instead of the big, as an 8-episode limited TV series based on the novel was optioned by Paramount. It was released through Hulu on October 18, 2019, and was helmed by Josh Schwartz (creator of The O.C.), who had been trying to negotiate an adaptation of the novel for over a decade. You can find the miniseries' page here.

Tropes present in Looking for Alaska include:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Dean Starnes's reaction to the junior prank with Maxx the Stripper, especially with Maxx saying, "This is for Alaska Young!" before dancing. He does tell the boys he knew they orchestrated it and not to do it again, but can't help remark that it was as if he got to hear Alaska one last time.
  • An Aesop: Two major ones:
    • No matter how much you love someone, imagining them as more than they really are does more harm than good.
    • When faced with the reality of death, the best thing to do is accept it. Alaska dies because she is unable to accept her mother's death, whereas Miles, at the end of the book, gains considerable peace of mind by accepting Alaska's.
  • Arc Words:
    • A quotation from Gabriel García Márquez's The General In His Labyrinth: "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!"
    • The final words of Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a great perhaps."
    • "Straight and fast" and "To be continued" play important roles as well.
  • Almost Kiss: There are a few charged moments in the story where Pudge intends to kiss Alaska or declare his love for her, but always gets cut off in some way - perhaps even because Alaska sees it coming.
  • Berserk Button: Alaska flips her shit when the Weekday Warriors flood her room.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Pudge longs to seek a Great Perhaps, associating the concept with excitement. Instead, he's left with hundreds of questions to which he'll never find proper "Yes" or "No" answers.
  • 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 scars will always linger and Pudge notes that the memory and image of Alaska will eventually blur and fade in his mind with time.
  • Broken Bird: Alaska. It's not apparent at the beginning, although there are some subtle signs. But her Hidden Depths and Dark and Troubled Past are brought up later in the second act.
  • Butt-Monkey: Pudge seems to style himself as one with his self-deprecating attitude, and is frequently the butt of the group's jokes due to him being a newcomer and less experienced than the rest, at least until Lara comes along. He gets dropped in the lake as a prank in his first week at the school, and later gets a concussion after being hit by an ill-aimed football.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Both Alaska and Lara's chests get complimented by the guys, to the chagrin of the former.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Alaska is wildly erratic and sometimes speaks in a way that could be considered childish or odd.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Cluster S Bomb would probably be more accurate, but there's still a surprising (and refreshing) amount of swearing for a book intended for a young adult audience.
  • Character Development: Miles goes from an, isolated, mild, Extreme Doormat into a considerably more self-aware, moody young man.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Alaska watched her mother die in front of her, too paralyzed 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 we say what happens to her midway through the novel?
  • Death Glare:
    • Miles gives one, and a Precision F-Strike, to The Colonel when the latter accuses him of loving Alaska as a fantasy rather than a person.
    • Alaska gives Miles a variation of one during her meltdown towards the end of their Thanksgiving break after he asks her if she's afraid of going home. It's ambiguous. It's clear he struck a nerve, although we never learn the full details of Alaska's home life and we never meet her father.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Alaska is one for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is a beautiful, fun-loving, rules-flaunting Hard-Drinking Party Girl equipped with a magnetic charisma. Her friends encourage these traits in her due to finding them endearing, failing to understand that she is, in her own words, a "deeply unhappy person" who acts out as a way to avoid being scared. As such, they fail to come through for her when she needs them most, with tragic consequences.
  • 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: Not only does Pudge not end up with Alaska, as she dies, but he doesn't end up with Lara, either. The two drift apart after having a deeply unsatisfactory sexual experience together as well as Alaska's death.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • When Alaska takes Pudge to go pick clovers with her after the two get kicked out of theology class, Pudge can't stop looking at her cleavage. She notices, and calls him out on it.
    • Later, after scouting out the rich kids' dorms to brainstorm for a future prank, Alaska tells him to not look at her butt when she climbs out the window. He obviously obeys.
  • Driven to Suicide: Presented as a Riddle for the Ages; the ongoing question of the "after" section is whether Alaska's death was accidental or premeditated.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Alaska, naturally. This proves deadly.
  • Drunk Driver: Alaska dies as a result of driving while drunk and getting in a fatal car accident. Though it may have also been on purpose, the alcohol didn't help.
  • Endearingly Dorky: Pudge's quirky awkwardness is considered endearing by the other characters, including Alaska, who calls him adorable.
  • Escalating War: The pranks at Culver Creek. It starts with a malicious dunking...
  • Everybody Smokes: All the main characters smoke to one degree or another. Pudge mainly takes it up because Alaska does it.
  • Faking the Dead: Miles' initial theory as to Alaska's fate, given what a skilled prankster she is. Sadly shot down by Dean Starnes, who saw the body.
  • Fan Disservice: After learning of Alaska's death, Pudge has a nightmare where she appears to him naked... only to collapse onto him and trap him under her cold dead weight. Oh, and and her head cracks open. If anything, the inherent Mood Whiplash and gross inappropriateness of the sexual part of the dream is Fan Disservice on its own.
  • 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 eighth month anniversary, which might have prompted her to remember the death.
  • Foul Waterfowl: There is an evil swan that lives in the lake near Culver Creek and is unanimously considered the most terrifying thing on campus.
  • Funetik Aksent: Having been born in Romania, Lara speeks like thees.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Alaska. She even buries wine in the woods so she always has some. And it kills her.
  • Head Hat: Takumi's... fox-head thing. He calls it The Fox.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Alaska has one after realizing she forgot the anniversary of her mother's death, which leads to her own death.
    • Chip and Miles, after Alaska's death. And pretty much everyone else, to a lesser extreme.
  • He's Just Hiding: In-universe, Miles briefly wonders if Alaska, being an excellent prankster, might've faked her death.
  • Hidden Depths: Alaska is far more than what she seems, which Pudge gradually discovers. He doesn't realize the significance and importance of this until it's too late, of course.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Played straight through most of the book.
  • Hunk: Alaska's boyfriend, Jake, a stubble-covered Long-Haired Pretty Boy described by Pudge as ruggedly handsome and looking like he could become a model.
  • IKEA Erotica: Word Of God has said that the book's most explicit scene, the oral sex between Miles and Lara, was deliberately written as bland and unsexy as possible to emphasize how little the two cared beyond the thrill of having a fling with one another.
  • Insistent Terminology: Lara is Romanian.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • Alaska feels this way about her mother's death. It's implied that this was partially brought on by her father, whose first reaction was to angrily ask her why she didn't immediately call 9-1-1 when her mother collapsed. It's permanently scarred her, and Pudge speculates that she developed her impulsive and attention-seeking tendencies as a way to avoid ever freezing up with fear like that ever again. She reveals to him that the previous year she had ratted out fellow student Marya and gotten her expelled for a prank to avoid taking the blame, which weighs extremely heavily on her because she sees it as proof that she'll never stop screwing up and getting scared at all the wrong moments. It hurts her so much that when she realizes that she forgot the anniversary of the death, she freaks out and drives out drunk in the middle of the night to visit the grave, which gets her killed.
    • 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 from head-to-toe and unable to cry for help, and the only reason they messed with him is because the Colonel is his roommate.
    • Subverted with Jake, whom Miles says he wants to hate for being Alaska's boyfriend, but can't because there's nothing to actually hate about him. He loses Miles' respect when he fails to show up at her funeral, however.
    • Alaska's father is implied to be this, given her account of his first reaction to her mother's death (angrily demanding why she didn't call 9-1-1 instead of comforting her). At the very least, she doesn't seem to like being around him very much, enough that she got another student expelled to avoid taking the fall for a prank and having to go back home.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Colonel did have a right to knock some sense into Miles after Alaska's death because the latter loves Alaska for her perky outgoing attitude instead of her bitchy attitude which pairs up with her as well. Miles tells him off for it but understanding his words makes him realise he's wrong and apologises to Colonel.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Colonel is bit of a dick with usual habits of being short-tempered, forcing Miles to purchase cigarettes with his own money and trying to gain an unfair advantage for his school's basketball team by distracting the rival team players during the match but he considers Miles, Alaska and Takumi his true friends especially after Alaska dies in the car crash, he tries to investigate her reason for the tragic event then helping to create a bigger prank as a memorial for her.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Kevin and his "Weekday Warrior" posse introduce themselves to Miles by tying him up with duct-tape and throwing him in the lake simply as Revenge by Proxy on the Colonel for pranking them. The only reason that the Colonel and Miles don't tell Dean Starnes is that the kids handle their own problems.
    • Alaska's boyfriend Jake doesn't attend her funeral. His exact reasons for doing so are never revealed, but Miles is good and disgusted.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Jake is of a more masculine variety.
  • 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 one dead side."
  • 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 only wants that side of her even though it's who she is, not a performance for his benefit.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Pudge can't figure out if Alaska has any attraction to him or not due to her polarized behavior towards him, repeatedly switching from tantalizingly flirty to cold and evasive.
  • Meaningful Name: Green stated on his blog that the name "Miles Halter" comes from "miles" as in the unit of distance and "halt her" as in what he fails to do at the climax.
  • Minor Major Character: Alaska's boyfriend Jake is only physically in one scene (the failed "triple-and-a-half date") and has a handful of lines, but he's the reason Alaska and Miles are reluctant to act on their feelings for each other and a phone call from him at exactly the wrong time becomes the beginning of Alaska's end.
  • Mood-Swinger: Alaska, who can go from wild and flirtatious in one moment to hysterically sobbing the next. Pudge experiences it early on when he goes to her soaking wet after being cruelly thrown in the lake by some bullies, only for her to coldly make fun of him - despite being warm and inviting earlier that day. She does apologize later, however, on learning he nearly drowned.
  • Moral Guardians:
    • They almost grounded this book because of the swearing, drinking, and sexual behavior of the characters, which indicates possibly that they have never met real teenagers.
    • Also, the US bookcover originally only pictured a stream of cigarette smoke, but bookstores objected and Penguin added a candle underneath. That candle was expunged in future editions until the cover was redesigned to look like that of The Fault in Our Stars.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Alaska, in Pudge's eyes. Her physical features are deliberately brought to attention to set up Pudge's persistent attraction and obsession with her, to the neglect of her vulnerable and troubled side.
  • My Greatest Failure:
    • Alaska blames herself for her mom's death. It's her deepest and most haunting insecurity, and eventually leads to her own death when she drives out drunk in the middle of the night after forgetting the anniversary of the death.
    • Likewise, the whole cast develops one after Alaska's greatest failure finally kills her.
  • Naked First Impression: Miles first meets his roommate Chip fresh out of the shower and only wearing a Modesty Towel.
    Chip: I'd shake your hand, but I think you should hold on damn tight to that towel till you can get some clothes on.
  • Never Found the Body: Played with. Neither Miles nor the reader ever sees Alaska's body, but Mr. Starnes did.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Pudge is this, but feels like an otherwise unremarkable person, which compels him to come to Culver Creek and seek "the Great Perhaps".
    • Jake also turns out to be one too, even though Pudge initially wants to characterize him as an asshole simply for being with Alaska instead of him.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Miles and Alaska to each other. He wants to get rid of the "Not" part, and it's hinted she does too. Alas, it's not to be.
  • 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 him 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? We also never learn what her last words were. Miles and Colonel try to conduct some scientific experiments to figure out if Alaska could have been too drunk or driving at an uncontrollable speed. They determine no, which only adds to the mystery.
  • Scholarship Student: The Colonel. Pudge stands halfway between him and the rich Weekend Warriors (the students who can afford to drive or fly home every weekend).
  • School Grade Hacking: The main characters decrease the grades of their peers as a way of getting back at them for nearly killing Miles, urinating in Chip's shoes, and for soaking Alaska's bedroom library.
  • "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.
  • Soapbox Sadie:
    • Alaska is this concerning women's rights, particularly the objectification of women, and frequently calls the male characters out for their comments on women's bodies. At one point during Thanksgiving break, she and Pudge steal a porn flick from another kid's dorm and watch it together so that she can critique the ways that the industry poorly portrays women and their desires.
    • Her planned senior prank, later carried out by Pudge and Chip as a memorial prank, was called "Subverting the Patriarchal Paradigm" and involved making a spectacle of a male stripper in front of the entire school.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: The Colonel, hailing from a deep-south trailer park and proud of it, is the most witty and insightful of the group.
  • 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.
  • Stopped Caring: Pudge begins the novel like this, and he attributes this to a humiliating bullying experience in middle school. It is partially his motivation to find "the Great Perhaps" - to break out of his state of dispassionate stasis and find meaning and adventure.
  • 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.
  • The Tease: Alaska is known to flirt with everyone, Pudge included. She even does it with Chip at one point, which weirds him out due to them being Platonic Life-Partners. She even flirts with the liquor store clerk so that he'll let her buy alcohol and cigarettes after she loses her fake I.D.
  • There Are No Therapists: Alaska's friends don't take her "crazy sullen bitch" side very seriously, neglecting to talk to her about her issues or to tell an adult.
  • True Companions: Pudge, Chip, Alaska, Takumi and Lara, especially during and after their big prank after winter break. The group eventually drifts apart after Alaska's death, but they start to come back together by the end, having been made closer by the shared experience of mourning her.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Miles and Alaska. Oh, so much. Remains unresolved due to Alaska's death. Lampshaded by the fact that Alaska ended their hookup with an enticing "To be continued?", which eats away at Miles after her death.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: The chapters are largely formatted as "[X] days before/after" what is revealed to be the book's most climactic event: Alaska's death.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jake. He calls Alaska just after she and Miles almost have sex. While taking the call, Alaska sketches a white flower which reminds her that she forgot the anniversary of her mother's death (she would put white flowers on her grave every year). The realization that she was cheating on her boyfriend rather than mourning her mother sends her into a fatal Freak Out.
  • Verbing Nouny: The novel's title.
  • Weird Aside: When Lara asks Pudge if he's ever gotten a blowjob. Pudge immediately lampshades this.
  • Wham Episode: The very beginning of the "after" section when the Eagle announces Alaska's death.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Alaska calls Pudge out for only liking the attractive and zany side of her and ignoring her vulnerable and difficult side.
    • 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.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Pudge and Alaska. They don't.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: Gender-inverted with Alaska, the Colonel (Friend), and Pudge (Stranger).

"Thomas Edison's last words were: 'It's very beautiful over there.' I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful."