Looking For Alaska by John Green is the story of Miles Halter, a teenager who leaves for boarding school in search of the "Great Perhaps." The novel is split into two sections, Before and After. In Before, Miles meets his roommate Chip Martin, a genius called the Colonel. The Colonel nicknames him Pudge, ironically because of his lanky figure, and introduces him to Alaska Young. Alaska is beautiful and rebellious and Pudge quickly falls in love with her, but she has a boyfriend in college. Nonetheless, the three become close; the Colonel and Alaska show Pudge a new sense of danger through their mischief and tendency to drink and smoke on campus. Alongside two of their friends, they participate in a prank war against the privileged students in the school. After a prank, the five hide out in a barn and play a drinking game, during which Alaska reveals a guilt that she carried throughout her life: she watched her mother die of an aneurysm when she was eight years old, too shocked and panicked to call for help. From her confession Pudge realizes, "And when she said she failed everyone, I knew whom she meant. It was the everything and the everyone of her life" (120). She blames herself for her mother's death. Later, Alaska and the Colonel get drunk while playing Truth or Dare with Pudge. Alaska kisses Pudge in the midst of their game, but soon after she falls asleep. She is awoken by a phone call, from which she returns in a state of hysteria, crying and apologizing. She tells Pudge and the Colonel to distract the dean of the school, and they instantly obey without thinking, before she drives off campus extremely intoxicated.
After begins with the next day, when the dean announces that Alaska had been killed in a car accident. The entire school is devastated, and Pudge and the Colonel are, on top of their distress over the loss, horrified and ashamed that they contributed to their friend's death. While the Colonel blames it on his annoyance at Alaska's moodiness, Pudge admits to himself, "That night I let her go because she told me to. It was that simple for me, and that stupid" (149). In an attempt to deal with the overwhelming remorse, the two search for answers to the mystery of Alaska's life and death. They pull a final prank in her honor, and in the process of grief Pudge discovers a truth about his "Great Perhaps" and the meaning of escaping suffering in life.
1. Pudge takes great interest in famous people's last words. He believes that what people say in their final moments can determine the type of person that they were. He questions his theory at the realization that he could not even understand Alaska just by knowing her as well as he had, so maybe last words could not truly define a person. Do you think someone's character can be revealed in the last things they say?
2. Alaska herself was fascinated by the last words of Simón Bolívar: "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" Alaska compares the labyrinth, symbolic of suffering, to life; she felt that the way out was "straight and fast," through death. At the end of the book Pudge determines that the way to escape suffering is to forgive in order to continue living despite regrets. Who do you agree with?