By Matthew Knox
“Looking for Alaska” (2005) is about the journey of a teenage boy named Miles Halter. The book begins with Miles in the midst of switching schools. He is transferring to the Culver Creek Preparatory High school in Alabama, the same school that his father attended. Before leaving, his parents insist on throwing him a going-away party, to which only two people attend, neither of which Miles actually cares about. It makes his decision to move even easier.
One of Miles’ favorite things to do is memorize people’s last words. His favorites come from a man named Francois Rabelais, who said “I go to seek a Great Perhaps,” and with that the journey begins.
Once at school, Miles quickly becomes friends with his roommate Chip, who is also known as The Colonel for his unique ability to mastermind various pranks. The Colonel introduces Miles to his best friend Alaska and Miles is instantly drawn to her. She is the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. She is also erratic, moody, overindulgent and in love with books.
We learn that she is in search of the answer to a complicated question. How does one escape the labyrinth of suffering? Alaska is so obviously crashing, an asteroid on an imminent course, that she can’t help but attract the likes of Miles. “Looking for Alaska” shows us that we fall in love with people that move faster than us even though we know we cannot keep up.
Miles is thrown into life at a boarding school and accepts it wholeheartedly. He begins to smoke and drink, breaking many other rules of the school with his friends. He has his first awkward sexual experience with a girl named Lara, who in the end just ends up being a friend. He is much too in love with Alaska for anyone else. Pranks are a way of life at Culver Creek and revenge for a good prank is guaranteed.
It seems at points that Miles has found his “Great Perhaps,” a central theme of the book. Over Thanksgiving break, he opts to stay on campus with Alaska, as she doesn’t like to go home for the holidays. They spend a night out by the football field drinking cheap wine and looking at the stars.
There comes a day where Miles’ “Great Perhaps” is taken away. Just as easily as it appeared, it leaves in a violent fashion. Miles struggles to make sense of the event. He develops an obsession in figuring out the mystery. For a while, The Colonel works with him but there comes a time where they both realize that some things just happen. It’s meant to be that way and spending our days on this earth trying to figure out why something happened in the past won’t get you anywhere.
“Looking for Alaska” tackles many philosophical questions. But they are not so obvious that understanding will be full after the first read. Under the basic story lies a current of anger, confusion and non-indulged optimism. This book is rare in its discoveries and the characters it uses to make them. I enjoyed reading this book the first time, and even more so the second.
It is a book that makes you think. What you think about most likely says something about you and how you look at the world. We can all use the moments of self-discovery that reading “Looking for Alaska” brings on.