Looking back on Looking for Alaska

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the tale of Miles Halter as he heads off to boarding school at Culver Creek, in search of “the great prehaps.” Miles is obsessed with the last words of famous people and his new hall mate, the troubled and sexy Alaska Young.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a John Green book without the nicknames. In this one we’ve got Miles “Pudge” Halter and his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin. Interestingly, Alaska Young is actually named Alaska.

I first read this book in the spring of 2010 in a young adult literature class for my master’s. I wasn’t reviewing books formally then, but I did keep a list of the ones I’d read with notes about each (can be found in the “50 Books 2010″ tab above). For Looking For Alaska I wrote, “Sad. But no crying. Just very very sad.” I wrote a post about Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns last February when I listed my 15 favorite books of all time. I ranked them (together) as #6. You can check out that post here.

What I love about it

This little gem won the Printz Award in 2005, and it definitely deserved it. Looking for Alaska was the very first John Green book that I ever read. I was hooked. Green manages to speak to the teenage experience without downplaying the real emotions that teenagers feel. Are these characters a little pretentious? Yes. Too quick-witted? Yes. But I’ll tell you right now that these kids do exist in the real world. Believe me, I hung out with them.

What kept me going in the story was the use of the countdown to the mysterious event. I wanted to know what the story kept counting down to. The book is divided into two parts: before and after. The before part was typical ya angsty boarding school fiction (which I love) with lots of smoking, drinking, pranks, and sex. The second part is what made the story great, taking it beyond the typical to a book about life and death.

This book sticks with me because of the event in the middle. I think about it a lot. There are many questions in my mind, but they will never be answered and I’ll have to stick with my own conclusion about what really happened. That’s why I love to talk about it with anyone that will listen!


“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.”

“I just did some calculations and I’ve been able to determine that you’re full of shit.”

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”

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5 responses to “Looking back on Looking for Alaska

  1. I read this book last summer. I liked it but it is not one of my favorites. I have read quite a bit of ya lit (my bachelors is in Adolescent Education and English). Have you read The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman. Its definately a favorite of mine :-)

  2. Miss Anderson, I am now officially in your debt. This book review of LOOKING FOR ALASKA has finally cleared up some of my confusion about my son’s about-to-be YA days. He could seem pretentious and WAY too quick-witted, yet I knew he was attempting to convey genuine emotional needs to me, his mother, without losing his bid on “way cool”. I am going to be drinking up every syllable of your upcoming reviews to continue my re-education about the YA days of my Gen X offspring before my grandchilodren enter that age range! Wish me luck!

  3. this book is my favorite. it’s extremely important to me. this book speaks to me because of my almost – sister. she is my Alaska. i love her and she changed me then she left. she didn’t die, but she left. she is and always will be, my Alaska. the amazing, beautiful, crazy, troubled girl that i can’t stop loving no matter how much i try. i love you, jasmine.

  4. Pingback: Top Ten Contemporary Novels | The Librarian Who Doesn't Say "Shhh"·

  5. I absolutely love Looking For Alaska! I haven’t read it since I was a sophomore in high school but I drank up every word, recommend it to anyone who will listen, and own two copies – one I lend out and one signed by John Green himself.

    It’s hard to describe why I love it, but you hit on some really good points, that I agree with, looking back as an older reader. Green hits on emotions and situations that are both hilarious and serious, as well as being typical of young adulthood and pushing young readers to think about the big picture issues that a lot of authors tend to simplify. I think the fact that we never know exactly what happened was a good move, because it mirrors mysteries and questions that young adults (and, really, anyone) have. Though, I’m curious how you read that part.

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