Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York: Speak. 221 pages, $8.99
Miles Halter wants more out of his safe, uneventful, and wallflower life in Florida. Will he be able to find the "Great Perhaps" at Culver Creek Prep School in Alabama?
One night, Pudge, the Colonel, and Alaska are drinking and smoking at their smoking hole when Alaska decides to play truth or dare with Pudge. She dares him to hook up with her. Pudge is delighted because he is finally getting what he wants. Then Alaska tells Pudge that they'll continue what they started and calls Jake. While on the phone with Jake, she freaks out and says that she needs to leave immediately, so Pudge and the Colonel help her leave. The next morning, the Eagle, their prinicpal, makes an announcement that the night before, Alaska was in a fatal accident, shocking Pudge, the Colonel, Takumi, Lara, and the rest of the students and staff at Culver Creek. Pudge and the Colonel are especially shocked and convinced that they are partly to blame for Alaska's death since they knew she was drunk and upset and should not have let her leave. In trying to find answers, Pudge and the Colonel discover that her death may not have been an accident, and they have more questions than answers. What could have been so important that Alaska had to leave and why would she want to commit suicide? Pudge and the Colonel realize that they may not ever get answers to their questions, but they do know that they can do something to keep Alaska's memory alive, so they plan something that is worthy of her and her memory.
It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked. When I first heard of this book, I thought it would be about a group of friends making their way to the state of Alaska, but I quickly realized that Alaska referred to one of the main characters in the book, Alaska Young, and how her friends are trying to really get to know who she (and each other) really are. Pudge mentions that he often doesn't understand her because one moment she'll be fine while the next moment she'll be moody. They're trying to understand her, but I think they realize that to know Alaska is to love her just as she is even if they can't always understand her completely.
It was told in two parts: the moments before and after her death, and the before part is divided into a countdown of days leading up to Alaska's death while the after part is divided into days after her death. I thought the characters were realistic and easy to identify with. It made me remember how I felt in high school: wanting to fit in but not wanting to get tied in with the wrong crowd but finding people you feel comfortable with and being able to call them your friends. I think Pudge was especially brave in that he left his comfortable life at home with his parents to find something more somewhere else. He knew it was the right decision for him because he didn't have much going for him at his previous school. He and the Colonel were also eventually able to admit to themselves that they were in part responsible for Alaska's death even though they thought they were helping their friend. It must have been difficult for them to admit this to themselves, especially when they're trying to understand what exactly happened to her. I think Pudge realizes that he messed up, but that Alaska will forgive him, so he will also forgive himself eventually.
Looking for Alaska is the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. It is also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults Top 10, and ALA Quick Pick, a Booklist Editors' Choice, a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, and an SLJ Best Book of the Year. Visit John Green, the author, at his website at http://johngreenbooks.com/ and look at other books he's written. You can also visit his video blog at http://www.youtube.com/vlogbrothers.