If there's one time of life when things come into focus—your self-image, your relationships, your beliefs, your fears, your triumphs, your loves—in short, everything that is you, it has to be your high-school years. It is for many the crucible of our personalities, where the "me" of existence is forged for all time. In his first novel, Looking for Alaska, John Green captures that feeling with freshness, candor and heart.
Miles Halter is a rising junior in a boarding school in rural Alabama. The Florida teen is used to the sun, but not the stifling, sticky heat of the Deep South. He's also not used to being one of the gang, but at Culver Creek this shy, gangly boy is accepted for what he is, albeit after being wrapped in duct tape and thrown into a lake. Like any school, there are cliques, the biggest two being the rich locals who go home for the weekend and the kids who are there 24/7.
The latter group adopts Miles, and within that group his particular circle of friends is certainly unique: there's The Colonel, his brilliant but slightly insane roommate; Takumi, the Japanese kid with the Southern accent; and Alaska Young, "the hottest girl in all of human history." Apart from a demanding academic load, their main amusements consist of smoking, drinking and the Culver Creek tradition of playing pranks on the other group—all while avoiding the searing gaze of The Eagle, the school's headmaster.
The experiences come fast and furious to Miles, but the center of his universe is definitely Alaska. Alternatively flirty and distant, friendly and angry, unattainable (with a boyfriend in college) and available, and fiercely intelligent, the force of her personality leads Miles and his friends into a labyrinth of emotions that, after a shattering tragedy, leave him wondering if there's any way out.
Green has written an inventive novel, one that will help young readers assess their place in the world and how they deal with one another. Looking for Alaska is funny, sad, inspiring and always compelling. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Fall
At boarding school in Alabama, narrator Miles Halter faces challenging classes, school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, a sexy, enigmatic girl. After Alaska is killed in a car crash, Miles and his friends question whether it could have been suicide and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. These intelligent characters talk smart, yet don't always behave that way, and are thus complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #2
A collector of famous last words, teenage Miles Halter uses Rabelais's final quote ("I go to seek a Great Perhaps") to explain why he's chosen to leave public high school for Culver Creek Preparatory School in rural Alabama. In his case, the Great Perhaps includes challenging classes, a hard-drinking roommate, elaborate school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, the enigmatic girl rooming five doors down. Moody, sexy, and even a bit mean, Alaska draws Miles into her schemes, defends him when there's trouble, and never stops flirting with the clearly love-struck narrator. A drunken make-out session ends with Alaska's whispered "To be continued?" but within hours she's killed in a car accident. In the following weeks, Miles and his friends investigate Alaska's crash, question the possibility that it could have been suicide, and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. The narrative concludes with an essay Miles writes about this event for his religion class -- an unusually heavy-handed note in an otherwise mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don't always behave that way, and are thus notably complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 March #1
The Alaska of the title is a maddening, fascinating, vivid girl seen through the eyes of Pudge (Miles only to his parents), who meets Alaska at boarding school in Alabama. Pudge is a skinny ("irony" says his roommate, the Colonel, of the nickname) thoughtful kid who collects and memorizes famous people's last words. The Colonel, Takumi, Alaska and a Romanian girl named Lara are an utterly real gaggle of young persons, full of false starts, school pranks, moments of genuine exhilaration in learning and rather too many cigarettes and cheap bottles of wine. Their engine and center is Alaska, given to moodiness and crying jags but also full of spirit and energy, owner of a roomful of books she says she's going to spend her life reading. Her center is a woeful family tragedy, and when Alaska herself is lost, her friends find their own ways out of the labyrinth, in part by pulling a last, hilarious school prank in her name. What sings and soars in this gorgeously told tale is Green's mastery of language and the sweet, rough edges of Pudge's voice. Girls will cry and boys will find love, lust, loss and longing in Alaska's vanilla-and-cigarettes scent. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2005 November/December
Junior Miles Halter leaves for the Alabama prep school his father attended, searching for a "Great Perhaps" beyond his mundane existence. He meets Chip, a scholarship student with trailer-park roots; Lara, who initiates him into his first sexual experience (oral, fairly explicit, and very funny); Takumi, "the Asian kid" whose real specialty is rap; and, Alaska Young. Alaska is smart, sexy, funny, sometimes inscrutable, and profoundly troubled by childhood mysteries she only hints at to her friends. Their world changes when, after creating some sexual tension with Miles, Alaska gets a telephone call, leaves the campus in the pre-dawn hours, drunk and distraught, and drives her car full-speed into a police cruiser, killing her instantly. Was it suicide or an accident? Where was she driving to, and why? What was the significance of the white tulips in the back seat? Was her kiss with Miles a beginning, or an ending? Had she truly found a way out of the "labyrinth" that was her obsession? By looking death full in the face, the friends Alaska leaves behind also confront life, its pains and its pleasures. Looking for Alaska will haunt readers with its memorable characters, its literary and philosophical questions about life and death that so fascinate teens, and its ultimate affirmation of a life lived fully. Highly Recommended. Catherine M. Andronik, Library Media Specialist, Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, Connecticut Â© 2005 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 February #1
This ambitious first novel introduces 16-year-old Miles Halter, whose hobby is memorizing famous people's last words. When he chucks his boring existence in Florida to begin this chronicle of his first year at an Alabama boarding school, he recalls the poet Rabelais on his deathbed who said, "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." Miles's roommate, the "Colonel," has an interest in drinking and elaborate pranks-pursuits shared by his best friend, Alaska, a bookworm who is also "the hottest girl in all of human history." Alaska has a boyfriend at Vanderbilt, but Miles falls in love with her anyway. Other than her occasional hollow, feminist diatribes, Alaska is mostly male fantasy-a curvy babe who loves sex and can drink guys under the table. Readers may pick up on clues that she is also doomed. Green replaces conventional chapter headings with a foreboding countdown-"ninety-eight days before," "fifty days before"-and Alaska foreshadows her own death twice ("I may die young," she says, "but at least I'll die smart"). After Alaska drives drunk and plows into a police car, Miles and the Colonel puzzle over whether or not she killed herself. Theological questions from their religion class add some introspective gloss. But the novel's chief appeal lies in Miles's well-articulated lust and his initial excitement about being on his own for the first time. Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 January #4
Teenager Miles chronicles his first year at boarding school. According to PW, "The novel's chief appeal lies in Miles's well-articulated lust (for Alaska, the title girl) and his initial excitement about being on his own for the first time." Ages 14-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 February
Gr 9 Up-Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent-no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps," he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious. Green's dialogue is crisp, especially between Miles and Chip. His descriptions and Miles's inner monologues can be philosophically dense, but are well within the comprehension of sensitive teen readers. The chapters of the novel are headed by a number of days "before" and "after" what readers surmise is Alaska's suicide. These placeholders sustain the mood of possibility and foreboding, and the story moves methodically to its ambiguous climax. The language and sexual situations are aptly and realistically drawn, but sophisticated in nature. Miles's narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles's A Separate Peace (S & S, 1960), Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2005 April
The chapter headings make it clear-Before and After. Something bad is going to happen. Geeky sixteen-year-old Miles Halter counts down the days to tragedy, drawing the reader into his new life at an Alabama boarding school. Miles, who leaves his loving parents and lonely, unchallenging school life in Florida, is a bright, shy, friendless scholar. He devours the biographies of famous writers and has an encyclopedic supply of famous last words. At Culver Creek Preparatory School, Miles is enfolded immediately into the exciting, edged-up world of his roommate, Chip Martin, and the beautiful, fearless, haunted Alaska, both veteran students of Culver. They coach and enlist Miles in an ever-escalating war of pranks and counter-pranks with a group of rich, cruel youth. The pranks war fills the world of the three friends, but their escalating craving for harmful substances (their smoking habits are nearly as alarming as their alcohol intake) and some sexual experimentation intrudes on their need to work through their academic curiosity about the meaning of life. Miles yearns for Alaska, whose signals to him are maddeningly mixed. Once the tragedy plays out, the last third of this provocative, moving, and sometimes hilarious story counts up slowly from grief as Miles tries to find his way through the fallout of depression and guilt that he suffers. Green, a familiar presence on National Public Radio, has a writer's voice, so self-assured and honest that one is startled to learn that this novel is his first. The anticipated favorable comparisons to Holden Caufield are richly deserved in this highly recommended addition to young adult literature.-Beth E. Andersen 5Q 4P S Copyright 2005 Voya Reviews.