John Green is not afraid to take on the big issues–love and lust and loss–in Looking for Alaska (Speak 2005). And he tackles them with honesty and humor, creating characters that are believable, complex, and unforgettable.
Pudge, who tells the story, is fascinated with people’s last words, whether those words are funny or prophetic. Two of those quotes weave throughout the story (even though historians debate whether those are the actual last words of the speakers, or not). François Rabelais may have last uttered, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Simón Bolívar did say (but maybe not last), “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” I appreciate the fact that Green doesn’t preach a “right” answer the questions raised in those last words. Instead he shows how Pudge puts together the events of his life to search for answers for himself. After reading Pudge’s story, I’m asking the questions of my own life as well.
Pudge leaves the comfort of home to seek his “Great Perhaps” at Culver Creek Boarding School. He thinks he may have found it when he meets the endlessly fascinating Alaska Young. He and the Colonel, Takumi and Lara follow wherever Alaska leads until the night it all falls apart. Then they are left to pick up the pieces and find their own way out of the labyrinth of suffering. Each section counts down the days before–and then after–the big event. I didn’t see what was coming until just a page or two before it happened. My daughter didn’t see it coming before at all. Either way, it is shocking. I don’t want to tell you what IT is because I want you to experience the shock yourself while reading, whether you see it coming or not.
One of my favorite parts of the books is the pranks. My college roommate and I used to prank our friends, but ours were nowhere near as elaborate as what goes on at Culver Creek. It starts with a prank that could have gone terrible wrong. After all, it is hard to swim out of a lake when your arms and legs are duct taped together. Things escalate from there until the last unbelievable prank at Speaker Day.
This is not a book for every reader (most books aren’t for everyone), but for readers who are unafraid to look at some of the tough stuff life throws our way, Looking for Alaska asks the big questions.