Monday, March 3, 2014

looking for alaska

looking for alaska was written by John Green.  It was published by Speak in 2005.

Green hooked me immediately with the headings for each chapter.  one hundred thirty six days before. one hundred twenty seven days before. ninety eight days before. forty seven days before. two days before.  I couldn't wait to get to 'one day before' or the day of. It took everything I had in me to not go to the first 'after' section to find out what had happened.  I knew something bad was going to happen.  Authors don't generally count down to good things within the book. I had a feeling she was going to die, although I hoped that she wouldn't.  I thought that it was the obvious event that were to happen, and was slightly disappointed that she had died.  Although I was disappointed with that decision, I was still anticipating every section, wondering what would happen with each 'before.' I couldn't help but feel ecstatic when more that one or two days passed, since I was closer to finding out what had happened to Alaska.

looking for alaska BEFORE is a book about a teenage boy, Miles, who is going through his first year at a new boarding school.  He wanted to leave his old school and people around him behind because he was not able to really be the person he wanted to be.  He didn't have many friends and was not particularly close to his parents.  The most fascinating thing about him was the fact that he memorized the last words of famous people.

When he left for boarding school, his father told him to be good.  To stay away from the kids that drink, smoke, and get into trouble.  These were the kids he gravitated towards.  By the end of his first day, he had met his roommate, the Colonel, and the girl who would change his existence - Alaska Young.  He defied his father on his first day as he sat by the lake and smoked with his two new friends.

Throughout the book, we learn that Miles is falling in love (infatuation?) with Alaska.  She is a new type of personality to him. Funny, quick, smart, and does what she wants when she wants to do it.  She appears to be bipolar. She is often full of life, but will then have a meltdown due to her depression.  The three of them, along with their other friends, Lara and Tukami, worked their way through the year, studying together and pulling pranks on some of the other kids.

Alaska would constantly flirt with Miles, but then pull back, telling him she was in love with her boyfriend, Jake.  We learned that she came to the boarding school because she needed to get away from her father and the guilt she has about her mother's death.  When she was 6 years old, her mother died. She was home alone with her mother, and instead of calling 911, sat next to her mother, wishing for her to be okay. Although calling 911 would not have helped, she held on the the grief throughout her life.  On her last night, the grief overcame her.

Alaska got drunk with Miles and the Colonel.  They were all having fun and she was enjoying her time with Miles, when she suddenly remembered something.  She ran out of the room, drove off campus and got into a fatal car accident.

looking for alaska AFTER is about a group of friends trying to figure out the truth behind their friend's death, and deal with the guilt that they feel over it. They shouldn't have let her drive away.  They should have checked on her.  They should have been better friends.  These are the things that they felt and reflected on after Alaska dies.  They spend their time trying to determine why she had left.  She had been on the phone, and suddenly came back into the room, screaming, "I have to get out of here! I forgot! God, how many times can I f*ck up? I JUST HAVE TO GO. HELP ME GET OUT OF HERE!"

She never explained to her friends who she was on the phone with or what she was upset about.  They spent the rest of the semester trying to figure it out.  They were finally able to determine that she had been on the phone with Jake, but he didn't know what had happened.  Towards the end they figured out that she had forgotten the date of her mother's death.  She felt such guilt again because she hadn't helped her mom when she died and now she didn't remember to go to her grave and visit.

A question throughout the book was whether or not Alaska meant to die that night. Since she had these bipolar tendencies, I could see both sides of it.  I do not believe that she killed herself.  I believe that she was a distraught girl who was going too fast and had too much to drink.  I believe that she was overcome by grief and could not think fast enough to move out of the way before she hit the police cruiser.

There were so many emotions that I had throughout this book. I felt the closeness that one has with friends that you meet in high school.  You feel such loyalty to them and can't imagine that you could ever mess the friendship up.  I felt the pull that Alaska had on all of the boys in their circle of friends. She was one of those personalities that you couldn't turn down.  Everyone was out to please her in any way that they could. I felt the confusion that Miles had when he hooked up with Lara.  He knew that he didn't feel for her what he felt for Alaska, yet allowed the curiosity and pleasure to take over. I felt the sadness and anger of losing Alaska. The guilt and confusion about their responsibility in what had happened.  The insistence of learning what the truth was about her death.  The insistence that their friend would not have killed herself.

Green portrayed the characters with brilliance, and although the book was slightly predictable, it was obvious that these teenagers cared a great deal about each other and that the loss of Alaska was going to affect them for the rest of their lives.  The ironic twist that Miles couldn't get past is the fact that he will never know Alaska's last words.  He will never know for sure whether or not she meant to run her car into the police car.

I think that this is a book that teenagers can relate to.  Although there are parts of the book that some may find inappropriate, the reality is that most teenagers take part in the activities portrayed in the book, or at least have felt the pressure to take part in them, and Green writes about them with the emotions that would be similar to real life teenagers.

Although looking for alaska won many awards, including the Michael L. Printz Award in 2006, 2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults, 2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award and was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angelas Times Book Prize (, it had mixed reviews.  Some believe that it is inappropriate for teenagers, while others feel as though it would hit home with many of our youth.  You can find postitive and negative reviews of this book.

If you would like to find what libraries carry the book, you can do that here.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about feeling close to the characters. I don't know how to explain it, really, but you just feel like you're friends with them somehow. It's the same way I always felt when I saw the musical "Rent." I know, I'm a weirdo.