With around 7.7 billion people currently living on this planet, what is it that makes you the person you are? How do you find your place within this vast amount of people? Looking for Alaska is John Green’s unique attempt of describing one boy’s search for an answer to those questions. The result is a captivating narration that speaks to both young adults, and those who are still young at heart.
This article contains major spoilers on the book’s plot. If you haven’t read it yet, you might not want to read on.
Looking For Alaska is John Green‘s debut novel. The book was published in 2005, two years before he and his brother Hank started their YouTube career. It contains a variety of autobiographic elements. For example, Green himself used to live in Florida, attending boarding school in Alabama for a while.
The book is a coming-of-age story about 16 years old Miles, called Pudge by his friends, who leaves his home in Florida to study at boarding school in rural Alabama. There he meets a bunch of people who have a great impact on his life, most importantly the enigmatic Alaska Young.
Events take a turn for the worse when Alaska gets into a car accident and dies. Pudge and his friend the colonel blame themselves for her death. However, the two boys find some irregularities with Alaska’s death. Therefore, they attempt to figure out what really happened to the girl.
Looking for Alaska‘s themes
Looking for Alaska falls under the trope of a coming-of-age story (“Bildungsroman” as we would call it in German) like J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye or Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. However, coming-of-age stories remain popular as seen in more modern stories like J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series or Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch. They typically focus on the characters’ personal development and there change towards maturity. The revolve around the archetypal rite of passage into adulthood.
The book deals primarily with the characters’ search for meaning. Even in the very beginning Pudge wants to attend boarding school looking for “a great perhaps”. Because it corresponds with our natural human curiosity, this is a common theme in storytelling. Driven by his curiosity, the young hero flees from the security and comfort of his nest. As a character, Alaska Young embodies this mystery. As a result, both before and after her death, Pudge’s main goal is to answer the questions around this girl and his connection to her.
However, Pudge tends to see Alaska as he wants her to be rather than as who she really is. The girl he wants to remember has all the positive attributes he got to know during the school year, while he adds the rest from his own imagination. Ironically, this is exactly what he and the colonel complain about other students doing. It takes time for Pudge to realize that who another person is is not a fixed state, but also depends on one’s own connection to them.
Looking for Alaska is a wonderful narration of a young boy’s quest to find meaning in his life. Green emphasizes the importance of curiosity, of being open for new experiences, to even seek them out. Although Pudge was confronted with immense obstacles, in the end he emerged as a richer person. The friendships and experiences he made transformed him into a wiser person. And all this would not have happened if he didn’t leave his nest.