Looking for Alaska Summary
Looking for Alaska is a novel by John Green in which shy, unpopular Miles Halter enrolls in Culver Creek Preparatory School and makes new friends.
- Miles quickly befriends his roommate, Chip "The Colonel" Martin. The Colonel gives Miles a nickname: Pudge.
- Pudge and The Colonel befriend Takumi, a talented Japanese rapper; Alaska, a troubled girl whose mother died; and Lara, who starts dating Pudge.
- One night, Pudge, The Colonel, and Alaska get drunk. Alaska dies in a car accident. Pudge suspects it was a suicide, but has no conclusive evidence.
- The friends decide to pull a prank in Alaska's honor.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1672
John Green’s Looking For Alaska is a young adult novel in which the narrator, Miles “Pudge” Halter, leaves home to enroll at Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama. When the novel begins, Miles’s mother is planning a going-away party for him. In spite of his mother’s efforts, only two kids attend the party, both of them “English nerds” who are socially awkward. Miles’s parents still do not really understand why he has asked to study at a boarding school. His father went to Culver Creek Preparatory School when he was a teenager, but Miles is not hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he explains that is has to do with seeking out a “Great Perhaps,” a reference to Francois Rabelais’s dying words. Miles leaves his Florida home and travels to Alabama to attend boarding school.
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When he arrives, he is disappointed to learn that there is no air conditioning in the school and the heat is horrendous. However, Miles begins making friends. His first is his roommate, Chip Martin, who is nicknamed “The Colonel.” The Colonel takes in Miles’s skinny build and decides to nickname him “Pudge.” Pudge’s talent is knowing the last words of many famous people. The Colonel is really good at memorizing things, which he immediately demonstrates by listing in alphabetical order the countries whose names start with the letter A. The Colonel is an unusual student at Culver Creek because he comes from a very poor family. He attends only by the grace of his excellent grades, which earn him scholarships. He has Pudge help him move a cheap sofa into their room before they leave to see Alaska Young.
Pudge might not be sure of what he thinks about the Colonel, but he is immediately attracted to Alaska, who is “hot.” She is also humorous, intelligent, and energetic as she explains how one of her friends “honked” her breasts over the summer. She follows this story by mentioning how much she loves her boyfriend, Jake. When she learns that Pudge reads the last words of famous writers and leaders, she shares a quote from Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, The General in His Labyrinth. The general Símon Bolívar’s last words are “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” Alaska explains that the labyrinth could be interpreted as living or dying. Pudge also meets Takumi Hikohito, who is of Japanese descent and is from Birmingham. Takumi loves eating deep fried food at the school’s cafeteria and is also a talented rapper. For the first time, Pudge seems to have friends, though he is still shy to speak in front of them.
Not everything about Culver Creek is easy for Pudge. The classes are very difficult, though Pudge appreciates his world religions class particularly because the teacher, Dr. Hyde, exclusively lectures. However, the real difficult comes when a group of boys—rich “Weekday Warriors”—haze Pudge. They take him outside in just his underpants, use duct tape to “mummify” him, and throw him into the lake. The normal hazing routine does not involve duct tape, and when Alaska and the Colonel find out, they promise to get revenge. Alaska and the Colonel are talented prank artists, though all pranks must be pulled off without alerting Mr. Starnes, or “The Eagle,” who is constantly on the lookout for illicit behavior that will justify expulsion.
It is not until Thanksgiving break, when only Pudge and Alaska stay behind at school, that they discover the way to get revenge. While sneaking into the rooms of their classmates, Alaska discovers that the Weekday Warriors’ secret obsession is their hair. Pudge and Alaska also go out at night and drink wine while reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle by the light of the moon. Alaska explains that life is difficult, in part because she loves her boyfriend but there’s a cute boy right next to her. During the day, she recklessly drives Pudge around the local towns. While searching their classmates’ rooms, they also find pornography. Alaska watches the film with Pudge and explains how every aspect of the pornography objectifies women’s bodies. She then falls asleep in Pudge’s lap, explaining that she is tired and not flirting. However, one night Pudge sees the other side of Alaska, which is dark and depressed, and he begins to feel like he should try harder to resist his attraction to Alaska.
Eventually, the promised revenge comes. Each of the pranksters explains to the Eagle that they are going away for the night. Instead, they stay in a nearby barn. Takumi and Pudge set off firecrackers as a diversion to distract the Eagle from the real pranks. Alaska and the Colonel hack into the school’s computer system and change the grades of the Weekday Warriors so their parents will be sent reports about their progress. Finally, a fifth student, Lara Buterskya, sneaks into the rooms of the weekday warriors and puts blue hair dye into their hair products.
The next day, they play a game called “Best Day/Worst Day.” Pudge’s best day is this day. He has found friends and has begun to come out of his shell. The Colonel’s best day has yet to happen, but it will be the day when he is able to buy his mother a beautiful house to replace her tiny trailer. Pudge explains that his worst day was when a classmate urinated on his gym clothes but the gym teacher made him wear them anyway. That was when Pudge
stopped caring what people did. [He] just never cared anymore, about being a loser or not having friends or any of that.
For Alaska, the worst day was when her mother died of an aneurism. When her father came home, he initially asked why she never thought to call an ambulance. Ever since then, Alaska has felt that she ruins things for others. That night, Pudge and Lara make out and she agrees to be his girlfriend.
However, Pudge and Alaska continue to flirt with each other. One night, Alaska and the Colonel stay up late drinking together while Pudge studies. Late in the night, Alaska suggests they play truth or dare, and she dares Pudge to “hook up” with her. They make out on the couch before falling asleep together. In the middle of the night, the pay phone rings and Alaska leaves to answer it. She comes back in, frantic, and demands that Pudge and the Colonel set off firecrackers to distract the Eagle so she can drive off. She is clearly intoxicated, but they agree and then fall asleep, which is how the first part of the book, “Before,” concludes.
The next morning, or “After,” the Eagle wakes up Pudge and the Colonel and tells them to go to the gym. All the students are there. Alaska died the night before in a car accident. A truck jack-knifed in the road and Alaska crashed into a police car. Pudge leaves the gym and begins to throw up. The Colonel screams that he is sorry. Both of them blame themselves for Alaska’s death because they knew she was drunk but they still helped her drive off.
Eventually, they begin to wonder whether Alaska’s death was a suicide. One day, the Eagle asks them to go through Alaska’s room to clean out any contraband that her father would rather not see. When they go to her dorm room, they come across a note in The General in His Labyrinth. Next to “how will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” she has written “Straight & Fast.” Pudge and the Colonel begin to investigate Alaska’s death. They interview the policeman who was there when Alaska died. He did not see her face but reports that her blood-alcohol level was 0.24, which the policeman explains is a “powerful drunk.” On the other hand, she drove straight into the car, which is unusual and suggestive of a suicide. Pudge and the Colonel also consider evidence that does not suggest suicide, such as that she told both her boyfriend and Pudge that she would talk to them again soon.
Pudge and the Colonel learn that this was the anniversary of her mother’s death and that she forgot to put flowers on her mother’s grave that day. They wonder, did she crash into the police car in her rush to reach the graveyard or did she realize that she had failed again and spontaneously chose to drive into the police car?
In the end, Pudge and the Colonel accept that they are not going to find an answer. But they do find plans that Alaska was making for a final prank. Near the end of each school year, each grade invites someone to deliver a speech to the high school for Speaker Day. This year, Pudge and the Colonel manage to hire a male stripper named Maxx. They convince the Eagle that they have invited a psychologist who specializes in adolescent sexuality. In the middle of his speech, Maxx strips to “subvert the patriarchal paradigm.” It is the greatest prank ever pulled at Culver Creek, and even the Eagle is pleased with their memorial to Alaska Young.
The novel ends with an essay Pudge writes for Dr. Hyde’s world religions class. The topic is drawn from Alaska’s last essay for the class; all the students are to discuss how to get out of the labyrinth of suffering. Pudge explains that for a long time, he simply tried to pretend like the labyrinth did not exist. Now he has suffered even more than he did before. However, he is no longer living a “minor life.” Pudge knows that he will slowly forget what Alaska meant to him because everything falls apart eventually, but he thinks the concept of forgiveness allows him to bear the labyrinth. He still believes in the Great Perhaps.
Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019
Author: John Green (b. 1977)
First published: 2005
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Realism
Time of plot: Early twenty-first century
Miles “Pudge” Halter, a high school junior
Alaska Young, Pudge's friend and love interest
Chip “The Colonel” Martin, Alaska's friend and Pudge's roommate
Lara Buterskaya, their friend
Takumi Hikohito, their friend
Divided into sections with countdown headings starting at “one hundred and thirty-six days before,” the first half of Looking for Alaska begins when high school junior Miles Halter transfers to Culver Creek Preparatory School, a boarding school outside of Birmingham, Alabama, in order to shake up his heretofore dull life. His new roommate, Chip “the Colonel” Martin, gives the slender Miles the nickname “Pudge,” and introduces him to his closest friends, Alaska and Takumi. Pudge is immediately drawn to the attractive, vibrant Alaska, who smokes constantly in violation of school rules and spends her time dreaming up elaborate pranks.
Within his first week, a group of students “kidnap” Pudge during the night, bind him with duct tape, and throw him in a lake. The Colonel is outraged and vows revenge against these “Weekend Warriors,” or wealthy local students who go home every weekend. Thrilled to have close friends for the first time, Pudge begins hanging out and smoking with Alaska, the Colonel, and Takumi on a regular basis. Alaska also introduces Pudge to Lara, a Romanian immigrant and fellow student whom Pudge tentatively begins to date.
As Pudge settles into school, his narrative continues to count down to the unspecified event. He learns that Alaska is often inconsiderate and moody, and has a boyfriend named Jake who is not at the school, but Pudge still hopes that Alaska will eventually become romantically interested in him. He is thrilled when Alaska urges him to spend Thanksgiving vacation at the school instead of going home, and the pair pass the time drinking cheap bottled wine and snooping through their classmates' dorm rooms. Their shared isolation and camaraderie makes Pudge feel he knows Alaska more intimately than anyone else.
Shortly after Christmas vacation, the friends spend the night in the woods during an elaborate prank, sharing personal stories of the best and worst days of their lives. Pudge learns that Alaska's mother died when Alaska was eight years old, and that Alaska blames herself for not realizing she should call 911. Two days later, Pudge and Alaska end up kissing after they and the Colonel get very drunk. They fall asleep before anything else happens, but Alaska is awakened by a phone call. She becomes hysterical and insists that Pudge and the Colonel help her sneak off campus, although she will not tell them why.
In the second half of the book, which is titled “After” and has section headings that are now counting away from the pivotal event instead of toward it, the reader learns that Alaska died that night when she drove her car at high speed into a police car. Pudge and the Colonel are consumed with guilt for not only letting Alaska drive in a highly impaired state but also helping her sneak off campus in the first place. The guilt increases when they realize that Alaska may have committed suicide by deliberately not swerving to avoid the police car.
Alternating between grief and anger, Pudge and the Colonel are determined to reconstruct Alaska's state of mind that night. Over time, they learn that Alaska was hysterical because she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to put flowers on her mother's grave that day, which was the anniversary of her death. Even so, Pudge and the Colonel cannot definitively conclude whether Alaska's death was accidental or deliberate, and Pudge realizes that he will have to find closure regardless.
Much of this debut novel's success lies in Pudge's thoughtful introspection. Unlike most of his classmates, he particularly enjoys a comparative religion class because the teacher poses interesting questions that make Pudge reflect on what is happening in his own life. Similarly, Pudge has a hobby of memorizing the last words of famous people throughout history. Both the religion class and Pudge's fondness for last words direct his feelings as he first tries to analyze Alaska's motives and then concludes that a lack of definitive answers does not have to define his memories of her.
Another noteworthy aspect of this novel is its authentic portrayal of the characters, due in part to the fact that they are loosely based on Green himself and on people he knew at the Alabama boarding school he attended, where a similar tragedy occurred during the time Green was there. The characters' sometimes swaggering bravado and their tendency to place disproportionate significance on the success or failure of their pranks feel very true to life.
Finally, the “before” and “after” structure of the novel is particularly effective in building suspense and engaging the reader, who does not know the nature of the impending event for the entire first half of the book. Because Pudge tells the story in retrospect, he knows but does not reveal to the reader what is to happen, and the author manages to make this structure seem natural rather than contrived. Similarly, the development of events in the second half of the book mirror the natural process of grief that Pudge experiences. Combined, these elements create a memorable and moving narrative, and the book was awarded the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award by the American Library Association.
- “Last Words from a First Novelist.” Booklist 101.13 (2005): 1181. Literary Reference Center. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
- Lewis, Johanna, et al. Rev. of Looking for Alaska, by John Green. School Library Journal 51.2 (2005): 136. Literary Reference Center. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
- Sieruta, Peter D. Rev. of Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Horn Book Magazine 81.2 (2005): 201–202. Literary Reference Center. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.