Tuesday, March 18, 2014

looking for alaska...

Looking for Alaska : a novel

     I had never heard of John Green before taking this class, however my teenage daughter and her friends were well aware of who he was and what he had written. My daughter quickly told me that her friends loved Fault of Our Stars, but it was probably too sad for me. She thought that looking for alaska would be a better choice.

     The novel is about Miles Halter, a teenage boy that is looking for more out of life. He convinces his parents that he needs to attend his father's alma mater, Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama. Once there Miles meets new friends that will help him discover what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps."  

     What makes looking for alaska a great young adult novel is its characters and their relationship with each other. At the beginning of the book you are introduced to the main character, Miles Halter. He seems almost one dimensional, no friends, no life, just a longing for something more--a "Great Perhaps." Miles understands that he wants and needs more than what his current life is able to give him. I can see how many teenagers could relate to Miles. As the book continues Miles is finally able to make connections with real friends. These are people that share his love of academics, stand up for him, cover his back, and call him out when he is a jerk. Unfortunately by opening him up to living, they also cause him to feel the pain of death. I can see how many teenagers could feel a connection to Miles. It's quite common to feel like you are invisible in high school, and long to leave your current life behind. Miles is given the opportunity to reinvent his life something that most teens would love to do.

     Chip Martin, otherwise known as the Colonel, is another important character in the story. The Colonel is Miles' new roommate at Culver Creek. He quickly takes a liking to Miles, and makes it his job to show Miles the ropes. The Colonel represents the life that Miles wants, the confidence to stand up for himself, and a fearlessness to go out on great adventures. Over the course of the story the Colonel goes from being the lead hater of the "Weekend Warriors" to a young adult trying to determine if his friend's death was accidental or a suicide. His determination to find answers helps the group begin the healing process.

     A pivotal character in the story is Alaska Young, she's the one Miles desires. She's smart, recklessly sexy, and has a dark secret that she will never recover from. At first she comes across as a wicked party girl that provides alcohol and cigarettes to the other students. However as the book unfolds you realize that she has the deep pain of losing her mother and the unbearable feeling that she is at fault for not saving her. Alaska's fatal drinking and driving accident causes the whole group to question if they where at fault for not saving her. However they are unsure of what she needed saving from, was it her own mental health or was it her drinking and driving.

     The story takes place at Culver Creek Preparatory School just south of Birmingham, Alabama, and according to Chip Martin, it is "the best school in Alabama." Miles first days there are filled with the "still and oppressive air" that you can only find in the deep south during the summer. His description of the campus doesn't make it seem like the high end private school you would expect. He states, "I stared out over my new digs: Six one-story buildings, each with sixteen dorm rooms, were arranged in a hexagram around a large circle of grass. It looked like an oversize old motel." A boarding school campus serves as a perfect setting for the story, because it allows the characters to develop their relationships with little adult supervision. The fact that the characters spend 24 hours a day together give them the chance to bond deeper and faster, and allows them to have more freedom to explore forbidden areas. It also allows them to grieve together and to start the healing process without the interference or support of adults.

     In Looking for Alaska, John Green creates a year in the life of a boarding school. He starts the story counting down to an unknown event foreshadowing that tragedy will occur. We follow Miles as he leaves home and begins to make new friends. There are on going pranks between Weekend Warriors and Miles' new group. We read about the friends getting caught smoking and then covering for each other. There are dull classes,a rowdy basketball game, first sexual encounters, drinking and ultimately the death of a friend. Finally, we read about the characters trying to move through their grief process with only each other for support. While most of John Green's readers have never been to a boarding school, he includes enough aspects to make it an authentic experience for readers.

     Looking for Alaska moves through numerous issues that are faced by high school students. The beginning of the book addresses a teenager's need to begin to separate from a parent, and to feel accepted by a social group of his peers. To help the bonding process John Green includes the rivalry between Miles' group and the Weekend Warriors. The pranks add excitement to the story and creates opportunities for the characters to prove their loyalty to the other members of the group. The need to feel accepted is reflected in Miles starting to smoke and drink, activities that he doesn't enjoy. They all turn a blind eye to Alaska's mood swings and excessive drinking, and they all risk expulsion in order to help Alaska leave campus with no more reason than she demand that they do so. "I JUST HAVE TO GO. HELP ME GET OUT OF HERE!" Unfortunately too many teenagers are faced with the death of a friend whether it is an accident or suicide and they end up questioning whether they could have prevented it. For many of them it is the first traumatic event in their life and they turn to their friends to help conquer the storm. I can only hope that this story shows them that they can also survive the pain and eventually go back to living.

     John Green's writing style targets the bright, slightly nerdy high school student. His characters talk about works of literature and how it relates to their life, but they can quickly turn the conversation around to typical teenage vices. They understand that education is valuable and that they need to work to succeed in life, however they still feel that they are invincible and can accomplish anything that they set their mind too. As with most teenagers they put the group before their own needs. John Green also ask his readers to think a little deeper with situations like  Dr. Hyde's finally exam question; "How will you--personally--ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? Now that you've wrestled with three major religious traditions, apply your newly enlightened mind to Alaska's question.", hopefully makes at least one reader think about how they will survive the issues in their life, not succumb to them like Alaska.


  1. So, in the end, are you a John Green fan now?!?!

  2. And "The Fault in Our Stars" is very sad, but it is just so life-changingly good.

    1. I understand why young adults love him.