Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Review: Looking for Alaska

A Book Review of:

Image from
Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book is the 2006 winner of the Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It's a prestigious award given by the American Library Association, and this book is fully deserving of it.


Miles Halter hates his school in Florida. He has no friends, and he wants to find meaning in his life in the "Great Perhaps", a concept that has come to him through his quirky affection for last words. He transfers to a boarding school in Alabama where he meets his roommate, Chip, better known as the Colonel. The Colonel introduces him to many friends, including the charming and mysterious Alaska Young, and gives him his first nickname-- Pudge, ironic to the fact that he is in fact a twig.  He grows independent at the school, learning the ropes with his new friends as mentors, teaching him pranks and the art of not ratting, and picking up bad habits along the way. When tragedy happens, Pudge has to confront realities about his life and what he's learned along the way.
Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: Speak.


This book is superbly written, and should stand in Young Adult Hall of Fame next to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Pudge is like Holden Caufield's more sociable and more likable double, but teens will instantly relate to him. Pudge wants to fit in badly, but tries hard to play it cool. The Colonel takes Pudge in the way no one does for Holden, and makes him part of a circle of friends where he starts to realize who is he. Green does a great job of showing the reader Pudge's desire to fit in, and to maintain the friends that he has, while showing how Pudge grows within these friendships-- how they change him. Green doesn't ignore the side characters though-- all the side characters, although they don't take center stage, are well-rounded and believable, and you're rooting for them just as much as you are for Pudge. It's an all around great novel that teens will relate to because it deals with the struggles of growing up without being preachy, and it shows how teens deal with a change to their world. The chapters are told by counting down the days before the tragedy, and then counting the days after. In an interview with John Green at the back of the book, Green says that he got the idea to do the book this way by how people relate to tragedies-- as they did with 9/11. It's like a landmark in your memory-- you judge time by the things that happened Before and the things that happened After.

Professional Reviews: 

From School Library Journal:
"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."
Lewis, Johanna. (2005, February 1). [Review of the book Looking for Alaska, by J. Green]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from 
From Publisher's Weekly:

"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."
Sieruta, P. D. (2005, March 1). [Review of the book Looking for Alaska by J. Green]. Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved from


Use this in a display of award winners in the teen section of the library. I would put other Printz Award winners in the display, and a question above the section asking teens "What makes a good book?" For a prize, I would create a box asking kids to answer what makes a good book for them, and ask them to nominate their own award-winner. If you nominate and write-up 3 books, you win a prize.

For the next display, make a "Local Award-Winners" display, and showcase the awards that your teens would select, and why. This gives other teens in the area an idea of what their peers are reading, and shows the reviewers that their opinions matter.

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