external image alaska.jpgLooking for Alaska

Before: The novel begins introducing Miles Halter who is beginning his first year at Culver Creek High School as a junior. Miles Halter loves memorizing the last words of famous people, and is searching for "The Great Perhaps" that he concluded would lead him to a greater realization about life and help him to understand the world around him. Culver Creek High School is known for its academic rigor, illustrious pranks, and illegal actions by students. Upon arriving on campus, Miles is told by his parents not to indulge in any of the inappropriate behavior practiced by students; a foreshadow for future events in the novel. Miles then meets his roommate, Chip who has the self-titled nickname of The Colonel. The Colonel is an arrogant, stocky, incredibly intelligent, confident, natural born leader. After a brief dialogue between the two, the Colonel gives Miles the nickname of Pudge an ironic nickname because of Miles' gawky physique and lengthy stature.
The Colonel takes Pudge to meet his long time friend Alaska Young. Alaska is very attractive and Pudge begins to have feelings for her the minute he sees her. The Colonel asks Alaska for smokes, Pudge buys them for the economically troubled Colonel. The three walk to a swing by the lake and smoke together. Alaska and the Colonel tell Pudge about the killer swan in the lake.
The next day, Colonel and Pudge have their first round of classes and Pudge learns how hard the school is. Later, Alaska promises to get Pudge a girlfriend; she sets up a “triple-and-a-half-date” with Alaska, the Colonel, and Pudge with is date Lara (a foreign exchange student). After a freak accident with a fly basketball hitting Pudge and concussing him, he throws up into Lara’s lap.
Later, Pudge focuses on his studies in between taking smoking breaks with the Colonel and/or Alaska and drinking. As winter break rolls around, the Colonel and another friend, Takumi, return home for Christmas festivities. Alaska and Pudge are forced to spend more quality time together, and grow together; they become better friends. They go searching through peoples’ rooms and make a replica of Mt. St. Helens out of burnt candles. The Colonel returns to save Alaska and Pudge from a lonely Thanksgiving and gives them a great Thanksgiving feast.
Alaska is blamed for breaking the number one rule: ratting people out. But she begins to redeem herself in the eyes of the disappointed Colonel by coming up with a “pre-prank” that would act as counter-insurgency to the people who had been harassing and pranking Alaska and Pudge. The pre-prank began with the gang – Alaska, Pudge, the Colonel, Takumi, and Lara – spending the night in a barn drinking and planning for a night of adventure. Pudge and the Takumi would lure the Eagle (the nickname for the Principal) out of this house by setting off fireworks while Alaska and the Colonel change grades and add die to the bully’s hair gel. The morning after everyone feels sick from sick from the previous nights alcoholic festivities. The gang returns to their regular school life and studies as winter break comes to an end.
One night Alaska, the Colonel, and Pudge are drinking away their troubles in Pudge and Colonel’s room when Alaska mysterious leaves for a few minutes to call Jake. When she returns she is very distraught and yells at Pudge and Colonel to help her leave. Without asking questions, Pudge and Colonel distract the Eagle while Alaska leaves into the night.
The next morning Pudge and Colonel are woken by the Eagle who tells them a traumatic event has happened and everyone is to gather in the gym. Upon arriving, Pudge and Colonel learn the shocking truth that Alaska died in a fatal car crash.
The tone of the book completely changes from a light-hearted coming-of-age story to a depressive death/mystery. Pudge and the Colonel exclude Takumi and Lara and go off on their on to try and investigate the mystery behind Alaska’s death. From drinking excessively to calling Jake and other people, the two are frantic to figure out the reasoning behind Alaska’s death. Pudge apologizes to Lara for excluding her, and the Colonel and Pudge also make amends with Takumi. Towards the end Takumi discloses some information that solves the puzzle. Alaska had forgotten the anniversary of her mothers’ death and felt that she had let her mother down just like she did the night that she had died. She didn’t die on purpose, just with the combination of her intoxication, and her emotional distress, her judgment was in disarray; this lead to her untimely death. Pudge and Colonel with his information can move past the grief of her death and pull off a prank that she had originally thought of. The prank consisted of hiring a male prostitute to strip on stage during a public speaking function of the school. It was the Alaska memoir prank. Pudge wrote his final paper about Alaska in religion class; Alaska will forever live on his, the Colonel’s, Lara’s, and Takumi’s memory.

The teenage language and humor is what we respected most as a group about the novel. The humorous and comedic elements lightened the reading and made it substantially more enjoyable to both read and discuss. The entire first half of the novel is devoted to this type of writing in the "Before" section. In the second part, or "After" section, the novel completely changes pace. As a group we disagreed with the change into a sullen, dark, and depressed overtone as the characters we once knew and loved for their teenage angst and rebellious ways now spiraled deep into depression and became socially moribund. None of us enjoyed reading the second half, and felt that if things hadn't changed so dramatically, the novel might still have been a success. To top it all off, the ending leaves the reader hanging in a sort of perpetual suspense and breft of any real answers. The sentimentality of the end completely loses its legitmacy because of the absence of catharsis or any remorse for the closing action. But, because of the latter events and beginning section of the novel, we all agree the book "wasn't that bad."