Looking for Alaska

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The award-winning, genre-defining debut from #1 bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars

Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist...

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The award-winning, genre-defining debut from #1 bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars

Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
New York Times bestseller

First drink
First prank
First friend
First girl
Last words

Miles "Pudge" Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps."
Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.
John Green's stunning debut marks the arrival of a stand-out new voice in young adult fiction.

Winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
A deeply affecting coming-of-age story, Looking for Alaska traces the journey of Miles Halter, a misfit Florida teenager who leaves the safety of home for a boarding school in Alabama and a chance to explore the "Great Perhaps." Debut novelist and NPR commentator Green perfectly captures the intensity of feeling and despair that defines adolescence in this hip, shocking, and emotionally charged work of fiction.

Miles has a quirky interest in famous people's last words, especially François Rabelais's final statement, "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." Determined not to wait for death to begin a similar quest, Miles convinces his parents to let him leave home. Once settled at Culver Creek Preparatory School, he befriends a couple of equally gifted outcasts: his roommate Chip -- commonly known as the Colonel -- who has a predilection for memorizing long, alphabetical lists for fun; and the beautiful and unpredictable Alaska, whom Miles comes to adore.

The kids grow closer as they make their way through a school year filled with contraband, tests, pranks, breakups, and revelations about family and life. But as the story hurtles toward its shattering climax, chapter headings like "forty-six days before" and "the last day" portend a tragic event -- one that will change Miles forever and lead him to new conclusions about the value of his cherished "Great Perhaps." (Summer 2005 Selection)
Publishers Weekly
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.
Children's Literature
This is an amazing first novel by a writer who is young enough to vividly remember his poignant years of high school and skillful enough to turn his memories into story. His sixteen-year-old hero is Miles Halter (or Pudge as he is latter dubbed by friends). Miles is a friendless geek who is determined to reinvent himself when he leaves home for an Alabama boarding school. Green quickly establishes the reality of his unique character and immediately hooks teen audiences by describing his desire to fit in, his passion for collecting the last words of the famous, and his desire for sex and fun. The other characters are equally appealing, and young adult readers will understand why it takes no time at all for Miles to become a smoking, drinking prankster who cavorts around with his zany roommate, "the Colonel" and the wild, beautiful, eccentric, sexually-liberated Alaska Young. Believable, often-humorous dialogue and strong feelings fill the story of a young boy who is far greater than a collection of adolescent impulses. Miles is driven to understand what Rabelais calls "Great Perhaps" as well as what motivates the unfathomable Alaska. His urges for sex are balanced by his need to grasp life's mystery, especially when tragedy interrupts what looked like a romp of a first year away from home. The story is rough, realistic and compelling. Unlike the other award-winning books, this title has characterizations that connect, conversations that ring true, references to inspire further reading, and theological and philosophical truths that speak to young adults and leave them with questions that haunt them. 2005, Penguin, Ages 13 up.
—Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
From the very first page, tension fills John Green's Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel (Dutton, 2005). Miles Halter, 16, is afraid that nobody will show up at his party because he doesn't have many friends. He loves to read biographies and discover the last words attributed to famous people. He's particularly intrigued with the dying words of poet Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a great perhaps." Miles is leaving his loving Florida home for the "great perhaps" of the same Alabama boarding school attended by his father. Ominous chapter headings (40 days before, 10 days after) reveal that something tragic may happen. At school, Miles is accepted by a brainy group of pranksters led by his roommate and Alaska Young, a smart and sexy feminist. The teen becomes captivated by his new friends who spend as much energy on sex, smoking, drinking, and cutting-up as they do on reading, learning, and searching for life's meaning. As the school year progresses, Miles's crush on Alaska intensifies, even after it becomes evident that her troubled past sometimes causes her to be self-destructive. This novel is about real kids dealing with the pressures of growing up and feeling indestructible. Listeners will be riveted as the friends band together to deal with the catastrophic events that plague their junior year, and rejoice at their triumphs. Jeff Woodman clearly delineates the voices for each character in an age-appropriate, smart-alecky manner, injecting great emotion while managing not to be overly sentimental. This story belongs in all collections for older young adults, especially those who like Chris Crutcher, David Klass, and Terry Trueman.
—JoAnn CarhartCopyright 2006 ReedBusiness Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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)
From the Publisher
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults Top 10
An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers
A 2005 Booklist Editors’ Choice
A Kirkus Best Book of 2005
A 2005 SLJ Best Book of the Year
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

"What sets this novel apart is the brilliant, insightful, suffering but enduring voice of Miles Halter." —Chicago Tribune

"Funny, sad, inspiring, and always compelling." —Bookpage

"Stunning conclusion . . . one worthy of a book this good." —Philadelphia Inquirer

"The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on." —Kliatt

"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." Kirkus, starred review

"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, Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends." —SLJ, starred review

"...Miles is a witty narrator who manages to be credible as the overlooked kid, but he's also an articulate spokesperson for the legions of teen searching for life meaning (his taste for famous last words is a believable and entertaining quirk), and the Colonel's smarts, clannish loyalties, and relentlessly methodological approach to problems make him a true original....There's a certain recursive fitness here, since this is exactly the kind of book that makes kids like Miles certain that boarding school will bring them their destiny, but perceptive readers may also realize that their own lives await the discovery of meaning even as they vicariously experience Miles' quest." —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

"Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author." —Publishers Weekly

“John Green has written a powerful novel—one that plunges headlong into the labyrinth of life, love, and the mysteries of being human. This is a book that will touch your life, so don’t read it sitting down. Stand up, and take a step into the Great Perhaps.”
—K.L. Going, author of Fat Kid Rules the World, a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142412213
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 8/14/2008
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 930L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.16 (w) x 7.38 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

John Green

John Green is the award-winning, #1 bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan), and The Fault in Our Stars. His many accolades include the Printz Medal, a Printz Honor, and the Edgar Award. He has twice been a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. John was selected by TIME magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. With his brother, Hank, John is one half of the Vlogbrothers (youtube.com/vlogbrothers), one of the most popular online video projects in the world. You can join the millions who follow John on Twitter (@realjohngreen) and tumblr (fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com) or visit him online at johngreenbooks.com.

John lives with his family in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Read an Excerpt

"So do you really memorize last words?"

She ran up beside me and grabbed my shoulder and pushed me back onto the porch swing.

"Yeah," I said. And then hesitantly, I added, "You want to quiz me?"

"JFK," she said.

"That's obvious," I answered.

"Oh, is it now?" she asked.

"No. Those were his last words. Someone said, 'Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you,' and then he said, 'That's obvious,' and then he got shot."

She laughed. "God, that's awful. I shouldn't laugh. But I will," and then she laughed again. "Okay, Mr. Famous Last Words Boy. I have one for you." She reached into her overstuffed backpack and pulled out a book. "Gabriel García Márquez. The General in His Labyrinth. Absolutely one of my favorites. It's about Simón Bolívar." I didn't know who Simón Bolívar was, but she didn't give me time to ask. "It's a historical novel, so I don't know if this is true, but in the book, do you know what his last words are? No, you don't. But I am about to tell you, Señor Parting Remarks."

And then she lit a cigarette and sucked on it so hard for so long that I thought the entire thing might burn off in one drag. She exhaled and read to me:

" 'He' -- that's Simón Bolívar -- 'was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. "Damn it," he sighed. "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" ' " I knew great last words when I heard them, and I made a mental note to get ahold of a biography of this Simón Bolívar fellow. Beautiful last words, but I didn't quite understand. "So what's the labyrinth?" I asked her.

And now is as good a time as any to say that she was beautiful. In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the cigarette washed her face in pale red light. But even in the dark, I could see her eyes -- fierce emeralds. She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor. And not just beautiful, but hot, too, with her breasts straining against her tight tank top, her curved legs swinging back and forth beneath the swing, flip-flops dangling from her electric-blue-painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked about the labyrinth and when she answered me, that I realized the importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls' bodies ease from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from calf to hip to waist to breast to neck to ski-slope nose to forehead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I'd noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended their significance.

Her mouth close enough to me that I could feel her breath warmer than the air, she said, "That's the mystery, isn't it? Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape -- the world or the end of it?" I waited for her to keep talking, but after a while it became obvious she wanted an answer.

"Uh, I don't know," I said finally. "Have you really read all those books in your room?"

She laughed. "Oh God no. I've maybe read a third of 'em. But I'm going to read them all. I call it my Life's Library. Every summer since I was little, I've gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there is so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I'll have more time for reading when I'm old and boring."

She told me that I reminded her of the Colonel when he came to Culver Creek. They were freshmen together, she said, both scholarship kids with, as she put it, "a shared interest in booze and mischief." The phrase booze and mischief left me worrying I'd stumbled into what my mother referred to as "the wrong crowd," but for the wrong crowd, they both seemed awfully smart. As she lit a new cigarette off the butt of her previous one, she told me that the Colonel was smart but hadn't done much living when he got to the Creek.

"I got rid of that problem quickly." She smiled. "By November, I'd gotten him his first girlfriend, a perfectly nice non-Weekday Warrior named Janice. He dumped her after a month because she was too rich for his poverty-soaked blood, but whatever. We pulled our first prank that year -- we filled Classroom Four with a thin layer of marbles. We've progressed some since then, of course." She laughed. So Chip became the Colonel -- the military-style planner of their pranks, and Alaska was ever Alaska, the larger-than-life creative force behind them.

"You're smart like him," she said. "Quieter, though. And cuter, but I didn't even just say that, because I love my boyfriend."

"Yeah, you're not bad either," I said, overwhelmed by her compliment. "But I didn't just say that, because I love my girlfriend. Oh, wait. Right. I don't have one."

She laughed. "Yeah, don't worry, Pudge. If there's one thing I can get you, it's a girlfriend. Let's make a deal: You figure out what the labyrinth is and how to get out of it, and I'll get you laid."

"Deal." We shook on it.

Later, I walked toward the dorm circle beside Alaska. The cicadas hummed their one-note song, just as they had at home in Florida. She turned to me as we made our way through the darkness and said, "When you're walking at night, do you ever get creeped out and even though it's silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?"

It seemed too secret and personal to admit to a virtual stranger, but I told her, "Yeah, totally."

For a moment, she was quiet. Then she grabbed my hand, whispered, "Run run run run run," and took off, pulling me behind her.

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Interviews & Essays

Q&A with author John Green

What made you decide to write this book?
Some of it has its roots in my high-school experiences. But the story came together in my head while I was working as a chaplain at a children's hospital. It was there that I imagined the character of Alaska for the first time, and there that I decided to write a novel for teens. Also, I wanted to write a book because I felt, deep inside my heart, that it would make my ex-girlfriends regret dumping me.

What were your own high school experiences like -- and how (if at all) do they figure into your writing and affect the way you write about your character's lives?
Like the narrator of my book, Pudge Halter, I'm a skinny dork with a last-words obsession who attended a boarding school in Alabama. But the similarities end there, mostly: Pudge is cuter than I ever was and considerably more charming. I was a bit of a troublemaker in high school, though the trouble I made was never terribly serious. I suppose I was the kind of kid who constantly gets accused of failing to "fulfill" his "potential." Pudge isn't like that all, but I'd be lying if I said my high-school experiences didn't inspire much of what transpires in Looking for Alaska.

Did you pull off any pranks in high school? If so, what is the most memorable?
A lot of brilliant pranks were pulled during my time at boarding school, but I wasn't involved in most of them. My greatest personal pranking accomplishment probably came in the spring of my sophomore year. Amidst an epic prank war, my roommate and I borrowed an enemy senior's car and parallel parked it in such a way that it blocked the entrance to the school, making it impossible for anyone to drive on or off of campus. While I don't recommend this course of action to anyone, I'll say this: Algebra II was canceled that morning.

Why do you write for teens and what interests you about this audience?
I like writing for teenagers because big questions-about love and religion and compassion and grief-matter to teens in a very visceral way. And it's fun to write teenage characters. They're funny and clever and feel so much so intensely.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
It's hard to even pick some of my favorite authors. This would be much easier if you'd ask me who some of my favorite ex-girlfriends are, because then I'd just answer with silence and we'd all have a good laugh. I'm going to set the limit at 10 and break them up into two teams of five a side: The Living Team: J. D. Salinger, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, and Toni Morrison. The Dead Team: Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Robert Penn Warren. (I was going to put James Joyce and Leo Tolstoy on the Dead Team, but then the Dead Team would have won in a blow-out, and I want it to be a good match-up.)

What are you reading now?
I'm rereading Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston, you'll note, didn't make The Dead Team, but you could certainly make a case for her-it's a flat-out marvel of a book. And on the kids' side, I'm reading Ilene Cooper's wonderful Sam I Am.

Best day/Worst day?
Best Day Ever: It hasn't quite happened yet. At the very end of the modern cinematic classic Back to the Future, there's a scene where Mr. McFly gets a package. And inside the package are finished copies of his new novel. Ever since I was a kid, I've been dreaming about the day when I tear open a box and find copies of my own book inside. So right now, that's slated to be my next Best Day Ever, and I'm pretty sure it will remain so until I get married.

Worst Day Ever: When I was in middle school, my parents convinced me to go to the Cotillion, which was like a dance, only more horrible, because all the other kids who attended were really popular. I made the mistake of asking one of the girls to dance. She declined, whereupon I burst into tears. I have no idea why I started crying, but I felt very alone and rejected and ugly and generally like I would never be popular (the latter of which was pretty much true). A Cotillion chaperone had to call my dad to come pick me up. But that was also a good day in some ways, because it was the first time I ever saw my dad cry, and there is something nice about having your dad understand how you feel.

Favorite last words?
In the dying wittily category, I have to pick Oscar Wilde. Dying in a garishly decorated hotel room, Wilde said, "Either this wallpaper goes-or I do." But for beauty, I sure like Emily Dickinson's. "I must go in," she said. "The fog is rising."

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Reading Group Guide

Looking for Alaska

Everybody has a talent. Miles Halter’s is knowing the last words of a lot of different people—people like the author Rabelais, whose enigmatic last words “I go to seek a Great Perhaps” inspire the sixteen year-old to leave his family home in Florida and enroll in Culver Creek, a co-ed boarding school in Alabama. There he makes a new circle of friends: his roommate Chip, a scholarship student whom everyone calls “The Colonel;” Takumi, a slyly funny Japanese-American rapper; and sweet-spirited, Romanian-born Lara, who has trouble pronouncing the letter “i.” But most importantly he meets Alaska, a beautiful girl who “had eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor.” Miles quickly falls in love with this reckless, quirky, endlessly intriguing girl. An omnivorous reader, Alaska introduces him to a new set of last words — those of South American liberator Simón Bolivar — that pose an intriguing question, “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” It’s a question that takes on a deeper, more poignant resonance when an unthinkable tragedy invites Miles to examine the meanings of life . . . and death.


John Green is the author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines. He lives in New York City.


Q. What’s the difference between writing fiction and lying?

A. To begin with, when you tell a lie, you generally do not admit upfront that it’s a lie. Like, if I am lying to you about who stole the cookie from the cookie jar, I am not going to preface it by saying, “While I am about to convince you that John Doe stole the cookie from the cookie jar, the cookie was actually stolen by me.” But when you write fiction, as with Looking for Alaska, it says “a novel” right on the cover. Before a reader has even opened the book, the writer has acknowledged that this is a story, and that the story does not faithfully recount events that actually occurred. The other big difference, I would argue, is that lies are attempts to hide the truth by willfully denying facts. Fiction, on the other hand, is an attempt to reveal the truth by ignoring facts. To paraphrase William Faulkner, I am much more interested in the truth than in the facts. One of the challenges in writing Alaska was learning not to overvalue facts. When I first started writing the book, I kept thinking I ought to include things that happened because they had happened. It took years before I was able to let go of the facts and focus on writing a true novel.

Q. In that vein, just how autobiographical is Looking for Alaska?

A. I have always danced around this question, and I think I’m going to continue dancing around it now. Like Miles, I grew up in Florida and attended a boarding school in Alabama. And the physical setting of Alaska is very, very similar to the physical place I attended boarding school. Generally, the book is probably more autobiographical than I usually acknowledge. But it is very much a work of fiction. The facts, I can assure you, were ignored.

Q. What was the catalyst for this novel? A. In the study of religion, there is this word theodicy, which refers to the question of why a God who is both loving and all powerful would allow there to be such unequal suffering in the world. In college, when I started to study religion, that was the question that interested me most. So in some ways, that was the catalyst for the novel. After I graduated from college, I worked for a while at a children’s hospital, where I encountered the same problem in stark, awful reality. It was in the hospital that I started to think about writing a story in which teenagers experience loss and a consuming guilt that cannot be easily assuaged. I started writing it just a few months after I left the hospital.

Q. Did you write it with a specific audience in mind?

A. Yes. From the very beginning, I wrote the book for high-school students.

Q. How did you come up with the book’s unusual structure?

A. I’d been working on the book with very limited success for about 18 months before September 11, 2001. And then in the days after 9/11, I was alone in my apartment in Chicago watching the commercial-free news 24 hours a day. On TV, people kept saying that this was a defining moment for my generation of Americans, that we would all remember the world in terms of before 9/11 and after it. And I thought about how time is usually measured that way: Christians date from before and after the birth of Christ. Muslims date from before and after the hijrah. We look back to the most important moment in our history, and that becomes the dividing line between what we were and what we are now. So I wanted to reflect on the way we measure and think of time. And also, for the characters in Alaska, there is a moment that changes their lives forever, and that redefines their understanding of the world. I wanted the importance of that moment to be central to the novel’s structure.

Q. Chip (i.e., the Colonel) says, “Everybody’s got a talent.” What’s yours?

A. I’m a pretty ordinary person in most respects, but I suppose I am good at finding and remembering trivia. I’m not sure whether that qualifies as a talent, but it’s the closest I’ve got.

Q. Miles’ teacher Dr. Hyde tells him to “be present.” What does that mean to you?

A. It means listening. Listening is a very rare skill, and in these noisy times, it is more and more valuable.

Q. Did you have a teacher like Dr. Hyde?

A. You’re finding a different way to ask the autobiography question! I feel like I should reward your perseverance with a fuller answer. I had several teachers who inspired me the way Dr. Hyde inspires Miles. But as a character, he is based on three particular teachers. In high school, I had a history teacher named Dr. Cooper. He lectured a lot and scared the hell out of his students and kicked you out of class if you didn’t listen—but also cared deeply about us. And then in college, my religion professor Donald Rogan and my writing professor P. F. Kluge both had a lot of Dr. Hyde in them. I stole lines from all three teachers, but particularly from Rogan.

Q. Miles learns to take religion seriously. Did you? And, if so, do you still take it seriously?

A. I did learn to take religion seriously, and in much the same way that Miles does: Donald Rogan was an excellent teacher. He was obviously smarter than me, and he found religion interesting, so I came to find it interesting also. Religion concerns itself with the same existential questions that I find interesting and important. I think I probably prefer the study of religion to the practice of it, though. That said, I do consider myself religious now. In high school, I had a classmate who attended a Southern Baptist church, and he was a nice guy, but he would always ask me questions about religion that I felt invaded my privacy. One time, he asked me, “How is your relationship with God, John?” I thought about it for a while, and then finally I said, “Complicated.” It was complicated then, and after studying religion in college and working as a chaplain at a children’s hospital and seriously considering a career as a minister, it remains complicated. I’m not embarrassed by my faith, and I’m also not embarrassed by my doubt.

Q. How did your time as a chaplain at a children’s hospital influence your development as a writer?

A. All the fiction I’ve written since working at that hospital has in some way echoed some feeling or experience or question that arose while I was at the hospital. In many ways, it was a before-and-after moment in my own life.

Q. The character of Alaska tells Miles, “The only real geniuses are artists.” Do you agree? And who are some people whom you regard as geniuses?

A. There’s a lot of my high-school self in the character Alaska, and I suspect I would have agreed with that statement as a teenager. But I think there are mathematical and scientific geniuses, too. I think genius is rare, but I don’t think it discriminates. I’m also not convinced that a person just is or is not a genius. I think that genius can come and go. Mark Twain wrote my favorite American novel, but he also wrote the awful Joan of Arc. Georg Cantor invented set theory and revolutionized our understanding of infinity, but he also thought Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a nebulous thing, genius. Unless you are Shakespeare.

Q. Miles writes, “Teenagers think they are invincible.” Did you when you were a teen? Do you, now, as an adult?

A. I was aware as a teenager of the fact that I might die, and it scared me a little. But I never felt like dying would affect my overall invincibility, if that makes sense. It’s a little like what Muhammad Ali said after his third fight with Joe Frazier. After the fight, which Ali won, Ali said that he thought at times that Frazier might kill him. “If he had killed me,” Ali said, “I would have gotten back up and won the fight. I would have been the first dead heavyweight champion of the world.” I felt like that as a teenager. I feel a little more fragile now. I still think people are invincible, but I’d rather not find out for sure.

Q. Because “booze and mischief” play significant parts in Looking for Alaska, the book has been challenged. Were you ever tempted to censor yourself when you were writing the novel?

A. No. It never even occurred to me that it might be a problem while I was writing it. I got nervous when the book came closer to publication, though. I have to give full credit to my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. She was absolutely steadfast about refusing to censor the novel, even when I wasn’t. My friend David Levithan once said of gay writers, “We are political novelists who do not wish to be political.” I feel a bit of that when it comes to banning books from classrooms and libraries. I don’t want to have to fight that fight, but I won’t shirk the responsibility I feel to my books and my readers. Teachers have been trained to teach, and they know how to teach, and we need to fight to let them teach—whether it’s Catcher in the Rye (or Alaska, for that matter) in an English class or evolution in a Biology class.

Q. And finally: In the “Some Last Words on Last Words” section at the end of Looking for Alaska, you write, “I was born into Bolivar’s labyrinth, and so I must believe in the hope of Rabelais’ Great Perhaps.” Would you expand on this? And are there ever any truly last words?

A. The Dutch title of Alaska is Het Grote Misschien, which means The Great Perhaps. But if you type it into Babel Fish, it translates Het Grote Misschien as “The Big Maybe.” I’m undecided as to whether there are ever any truly last words. That’s the big maybe. As for the quote cited above, I mean that I believe in hope, in what is sometimes called “radical hope.” I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering-and maybe even inside the suffering. And that’s why I write fiction, probably. It’s my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness.


  • Discuss the book’s unusual structure. Why do you suppose Green chose this strategy for telling his story? How else might he have structured the same material?
  • Miles tells the story in his own first-person voice. How might the book differ if it had been told in Alaska’s voice or the Colonel’s? Or in the voice of an omniscient narrator?
  • The Colonel says “Everybody’s got a talent.” Do you?
  • Miles’s teacher Dr. Hyde tells him to “be present.” What does this mean?
  • John Green worked for a time as a chaplain in a children’s hospital. How do you think that influenced the writing ofLooking For Alaska?
  • What do you think “The Great Perhaps” means?
  • And how about Bolivar’s “labyrinth?”
  • In the “Some last words on last words” section at the end of the book, Green writes, “I was born into Bolivar’s labyrinth, and so I must believe in the hope of Rabelais’ Great Perhaps.” What do you think he means by this?
  • Has this novel changed the way you regard human suffering? And death?
  • One of the characters, Dr. Hyde says, “Everything that comes together falls apart.” Do you think the author agrees? How does he deal with this Zen belief in his novel?
  • Alaska loves these two lines from the poet W. C. Auden: “You shall love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart.” What do these lines mean to you and why do you think Alaska likes them so much?
  • Miles writes, “Teenagers think they are invincible.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Was it necessary for Alaska to die?
  • This novel is filled with wonderful characters. Who is your favorite? Why? Do you know any people like these characters?
  • Can you imagine Miles and the Colonel as adults? What might they be like? What professions do you suppose they might choose?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 1797 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1803 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    I know who I am. That is all that matters.

    I feel heavy. And empty.

    I have read the book. It is over. For me, anyways.

    This makes me sad.

    The reviews of this book make me sad, and also a little bit angry because when people say that a book like this is 'amazing,' I think that they do not understand.

    This book was enormous.

    Today I told a friend that I was reading a beautiful book called 'The Fault in Our Stars,' but that she had better not read it, because it was mine.

    I understand Hazel.

    This book was enormous, but it came and went very quietly. I do not want it to be a sensation. I do not want it to be sensational for anyone but me. I do not want it to be anything. I do not want it to be made into a movie.

    I want it to be loved.

    I am very conflicted.

    I do not want people to read it who will not understand.

    I think I understand.

    I feel like I am breaking it. Everything.

    But this is how I feel.

    I wish that I had not purchased this book electronically, because then I could take the copy that I do not own wherever I go, pages folded, spine cracking, soft cover bent and loved and worn and used and perfect.

    This book was enormous, and yet it came and went... so quietly.

    It is a quiet book.


    You cry. You laugh.

    But the after.

    It is a quiet book.

    Thank you, John.


    710 out of 960 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    If you have not read this book, I recommend immediately you get up and go to your nearest library and get this book. This book will blow your mind, one of the books I almost teared up in. The author greatest achievements in this book is how he builds gut wrenching tension after every chapter with the 100 day till and so on. And when you finally hit the climax you will be in disbelief. Oh and be prepared to fall in love with the most diverse and compelling characters ever written.

    146 out of 163 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Starts slow and then sucks you in

    I was pleasantly surprised by Looking for Alaska. For me, it started out very young and teenager-ish, which is probably because.well, it's a book about a bunch of teenagers, doing very teenage things. For a while I was thinking that I was just listening to a book that was going to be basically just that, teenagers doing teenage things; drinking, smoking, sex, and tormenting each other (yes, all of the above are included in this book). I figured there was going to be some great disaster and a lesson learned and wam-bam, you've got a book. The thing is, the book received several great reviews that I just couldn't give up on it. People saying how great a book it was - usually "people" do know what they are talking about.well at least some of the time.

    It took half the book - and then it happened, the great disaster I was talking about before. The thing is, it's much greater than you wanted or expected. And John Green is a genius, because by this time, you're laughing and enjoying yourself with these characters, so the blow is not just to the characters, but you feel it too.

    So, no, this book is not about a bunch of teenagers, doing teenage-y things, no matter how much of it is included in the book. It's a book about life. It's a book about very young people attempting to discover the meaning of life, love, true friendship, having fun, tragedy, depression, and even God. I was so impressed with some of the things that the author included about God, and religion in general, and not just one but several different religions. I am a Christian, and while he was simply skimming the surface of religions and religious beliefs, John Green nailed some things on the head, or at least included things that nailed it on the head. My favorite religious section: the discussion about the lady (I can't remember names right now - and since this is an audiobook, no book to reference) who wanted to destroy Heaven and Hell because she wanted people to love God not because he could get them into Heaven, keep them out of Hell, but because God is God!

    Many of the reviews I had read said that due to the mature nature of some of the stuff in the book, it probably isn't for young teenagers. I would have to agree. There are moments when I felt like smoking and drinking and even sex was not glorified exactly, but it seemed normal. And it is, somewhat, but as adults and parents, we should attempt to move and motivate for it not to be normal. On the flip side, the consequences of some of these actions are shown throughout the book.

    113 out of 129 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2010

    amazing book.

    i loved it. i cried throughout the entire 'after' part. like a baby. the only reason i regret reading this book is that now i don't believe any book will ever measure up to this one. absolutely great. there's nothing more to it!

    58 out of 59 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2009

    Looking for Alaska and finding your self

    When reading this book i laughed, became angried, and cried. This book is so gut wrenching that you can't put down the book. Looking for Alaska is a quick read and a good one too. The mysterious Before and After is quite ingenious if you ask me. I felt as though i knew something was going to happen but until that point it never really struck me. The quote "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?" plays a huge part through out the book. This book is very relatable in the sense that you are a teenager or you once were the average teenager looking for adventure. I reccomend this book to anyone over the age of 13.

    46 out of 51 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2012

    Well written but...

    I am very surprised so many people love this book. I read it based solely on the positive reviews thinking perhaps the book's summary didn't do it justice. But the book was boring, dull and aside from one or two things, entirely uneventful. It seemed to me like it was a wanna-be Catcher in the Rye although not nearly as good. During the "after" section, I mostly kept hoping the book would end. I am disappointed I wasted time reading this book and that the main female character was unlikable and downright annoying at times.

    Pass on this book if you value your time.

    29 out of 160 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2012

    Understanding alaska . ...

    This book was a intriguing book with twist and the every day life of some teens . You get to look into a world of a group of teenagers and see lust , drugs use , pranks , sex and everyday teens exploring themselves and the things around them just trying to keep out of trouble . The before will have you in depths of the book just to see if pudge and alaksa end up together . And to get to the after. Were the book changes courses completely . Ive only read this book once until i lent it to a friend and never recieved it back . Im buying it again bexause its worth the read . No mattter what book i purchase little peaces of the colonel , pudge, alaska and the others will stary in your mind , this is a once in a lifetime book made by an inspiring author who really tries to capture hopeless teens in love or lust . Each having their dofferent qwerks an intresting things abot them .
    Buy this book , read this book , you will NOT regret it .

    27 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I am a public high school teacher, and I was excited to read thi

    I am a public high school teacher, and I was excited to read this "highly acclaimed" book. I was shocked and utterly disappointed. What in the world are people thinking in recommending this trash to a 14-17 year old? It is horribly immoral and irresponsible to give this to a child and SAY it is a great book. It is NOT. What school uses this book in the classroom? Sodom and Gomorrah High? It basically teaches the reader how to give a ......oh, I can't use that language on this review....but it is IN THIS BOOK I am reviewing that targets young impressionable teens. Parents and teachers beware....it is incredibly vulgar. What a waste of paper. Sorry, but the author should be ashamed of himself.
    I read teen novels ALL OF THE TIME, and have never been so disgusted.

    23 out of 76 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2012

    I Also Recommend:


    i love john green, so i was expecting a lot out of this book. i was not disappointed. this is tied with harry potter as my favorite book of all time. i love the theme, i love the characters, i love all the pranks that are played, i love that miles memorizes last words (just like me!), i love all of it. it's a little inappropriate at times, so definitely a 15+ age range though. but DEFINITELY a must read. can't wait for the fault in our stars! DFTBA!

    19 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012


    Ive read thia book about 10 times love it

    18 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011


    I'd watched the Vlogbrothers for the longest time w/o reading one of John's books. My friend actually had to rave about it before I allowed her to loan it to me.

    Don't wait like I did! READ THIS FANTASTIC BOOK NOW!

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    Kinda disappointed

    I heard so many good things about this book so I decided to read it. I finished it and was kinda disappointed. I wasn't moved. I didn't like any of the characters. I didn't cry. I wasn't angry. When I got to the climax, I was like seriously this is it? this is what happens? and then I thought maybe the end is really good then. And no. I finished it and didn't find it good at all. Was it entertaining? yes. was it funny? yes. did it have a good plot? no, not really. This book is way too overrated.

    13 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013


    The sample is only 7 pages and only covers the cover, reviews by journalists and newspapers, and the dedication? Really? lol...

    8 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

    To be honest, I don't understand why everyone is obsessed with J

    To be honest, I don't understand why everyone is obsessed with John Green's novels.
    Was it bad? No. Was it good? Not really.

    It's a typical teenage problem novel. There's smoking and drinking and sex and drugs: general teenage angst.

    And there's religion and death and this kid who quotes the last words of the famous and dying. Which apparently makes it some sort of amazing tool that will forever change the way you think about boarding school/your problems/last words/teenagers/G-d/peanut butter/Alaska/pranks/etc.. Quite frankly, I don't get it. I wasn't moved while reading this and after finishing it I don't feel compelled to come here and post some raving review in which I fanatically proclaim how I want to kidnap this book and have its children.

    Don't get me wrong and all, this was a nicely written book.
    But the hype is exactly what it is- hype.

    8 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2012


    I absolutely adore this book. Its my favorite by John Green. Looking for Alaska will make you see life like you have never seen it before. This book is shocking, mysterious, soooo funny, and sad. There wasn't one time when I felt like I was getting bored. Every moment had a new way of pulling you into the story. I read this book in one day and one day I decided to read it again and it was as good as it was the first time. This is a captivating story and has an amazing plot. Everybody should read this!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This book details the lives of four students at a boarding high school and includes a tragedy. I thought all but Miles to be shallow and the behavior of the students a little too insane to be believable. Review may have problems- wouldn't fit in 3500

    On the first page, Miles Halter, a social outcast at his school, is preparing to leave for Culver Creek, a boarding high school in Alabama. His chief distinction is his extensive knowledge of famous last words, telling his parents that, in the last words of Francois Rabelais: "I go to seek a Great Perhaps."
    As the story goes on, he arrives at the school and meets his roommate, Chip Martin (otherwise known as the Colonel, because of his role in planning the traditional Culver Creek pranks). The Colonel knows the name of every country in the world, as well as a lot of other weird information. He's been going to Culver Creek since his freshman year, unlike Miles who is now a junior.
    The Colonel introduces Pudge to Alaska, a fusion-reactor hot girl who, unfortunately for the instantly infatuated Miles, already has a boyfriend that there is no competing with. She is the absolute most random, crazy person Pudge has ever seen outside an insane asylum.
    Miles becomes known as Pudge because of his skinniness -"It's called irony, Pudge") The Colonel, true to his reputation and his hatred for the Weekday Warriors because of his family's poverty, pulls off a plan wherein the Warriors in question get blue dye in their hair gel and progress reports sent to their families meticulously detailing how they are failing some of their classes.
    The four of them (including Takumi, an Asian student who has known the Colonel since his frosh year) like most of the rest of the Culver Creek student body, smoke, drink, and generally start their college experiences a little early under the ever-present threat of expulsion by the Eagle. Through insights by Dr. Hyde in World Religions class, and Alaska's thinking which has taken up permanent residence several miles away from the box, there is no question that he finds his Great Perhaps.
    On the very day that he finally hooks up with Alaska, disaster strikes. And I quote the back cover: "Nothing will ever be the same."
    My biggest problem with the book was that the characters were too wild for it to be realistic. During Thanksgiving break, Alaska and Pudge take a "self-guided" tour of the dorm rooms and find that every single student has alcohol, drugs, porn, or all of the above and more in their rooms. Seriously. There would be at least one person entering Culver Creek not wanting to risk getting kicked out for his/her own entertainment, if you want to call it that. Peer pressure and high school irresponsibility only go so far.
    Many of the characters were fairly one-dimensional, although if the one dimension is spontaneity I suppose you could say Alaska has an infinite number of dimensions. The Colonel is fairly flat before the disaster I mentioned, which the very heading system of the book revolves around: He studies crazy stuff and does crazy stuff. In the post-disaster part, he's a bit more believable as we watch him and Pudge struggle through grief's many permutations. Pudge is more believable-I can sympathize with him myself, entering the world after a long period of isolation. He has dimension. He isn't totally, insanely reckless like Chip and Alaska.
    What the point is is debatable, and it's hard to tell exactly what the author had in mind. How to get out of "this labyrinth of suffering" (as Bolivar and then Pudge put it)? Who is really responsible for the central tragedy, and to what degree? Should Alaska have tried to let go of the past that walled off her future? And so on, and so on.

    6 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2012


    Quick read. Thrilling,touching,amazing and life changing.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014


    This will be in capitals to express my pain


    Thank you for your time

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2014

    John Green has a way of writing deep and dark secrets of my life

    John Green has a way of writing deep and dark secrets of my life...

    The Fault in Our Stars in my favorite book and I want the world to love it

    But at the same time it's my little secret

    It's a preview of my life and for someone,

    Someone who won't understand me, my life, Hazel's life...

    It's a waste for them to read

    They can come to love the book but never have close to as many connections as I will have. As they should have. I want his books to be loved, and understood, and never forgotten because they are truly a treasure.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2014

    um nk

    good read, except for the VERY GRAPHIC sex scene *barfs*

    3 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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