This coming-of-age book by John Green is published by Dutton Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Reader's Group and is written for kids ages 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Miles (Pudge) Halter goes to boarding school in search of the "great perhaps," — a phrase attributed to French humanist Francois Rabelais about discovering the possibilities of life beyond the present — along with his new classmates Chip (the Colonel) Martin, Takumi and beautiful but troubled Alaska. Alaska spends most of her free time drinking, smoking and musing. She is legendary for instigating pranks against the school's rich kids and leadership. But one night after a prank and a drinking binge with Pudge and the gang, Alaska crashes her car and dies. Alaska's friends spend the rest of the book trying to piece together the events of that night, to forgive themselves for not stopping her and to understand what really happens to someone after death.
While Dr. Hyde, the aging world religions teacher, doesn't provide false information about Christ and Christianity, he gives a textbook presentation, empty of any discussion about Christ's power to restore broken lives. He also places Christianity on a level playing field with Islam and Buddhism. When Pudge's school competes against a Christian school's basketball team, the Christians do a "hellfire" cheer, and Pudge and friends yell out faith-mocking comments from the bleachers.
Pudge's parents support his desire to attend boarding school. His father (an alumnus of the school) even helps him pull a prank on the faculty. Mr. Starnes (the dean of students, known to Pudge's crew as The Eagle) allows a student jury to mete out punishment. Mr. Starnes is the subject of many pranks but remains fairly good-natured about them. He displays deep, genuine sorrow when Alaska dies, even though she was one of his worst troublemakers. Dr. Hyde gains the respect of Pudge and others with his philosophical explanations of religious leaders and the afterlife. For his class final, he asks each student to use his newly enlightened mind to determine how he, personally, will escape what Alaska had always called the "labyrinth of suffering."
Other Belief Systems
Pudge and friends study Buddhism and Islam alongside Christianity in their world religions class.
The teenagers' dialogue is littered with f--- and s---, as well as other, milder profanities. The bulk of their discussions rapidly turn crass and/or sexual.
When everyone else is gone for Thanksgiving, Alaska and Pudge ransack people's rooms in search of porn. Alaska, a self-proclaimed sex addict, tells the guys a story about getting her breast "honked" and provides Pudge's girlfriend with graphic instructions on how to give him oral sex (which the girl promptly does). While dating another guy, Alaska makes out with Pudge. Pudge obsesses over Alaska's body. Prior to meeting her, however, he confesses that he wouldn't care who his girlfriend was as long as he had someone to make out with.
2006 Michael L. Printz Award and an ALA Best Books for Young Adults.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Alcohol, drugs, smoking and sex pervade the thoughts and discussions of the young characters in Looking for Alaska. They also play pranks on faculty and other students. Pudge acknowledges early in the book that the kids he's meeting are what his parents would call the "wrong crowd," but he embraces them and their activities anyway.
- In addition to discussing these issues, parents may want to talk about Alaska: Her sexy actions, bright mind and carefree spirit make her the kind of girl young women may want to emulate and guys want to date — but she's clearly not the role model most parents would endorse.
- Finally, parents may want to ensure teens recognize that Christ desires relationship with people and Christianity is not just one of many religions — it's the only true religion and far more glorious than what Dr. Hyde describes to his class. Jesus is not just one of many options for someone searching for answers about what happens after death.
Note: Rights to produce a screenplay were purchased in 2005.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.