Looking for Alaska

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Looking for Alaska Book Poster Image
Award-winning novel of life and death, for older teens.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 40 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 170 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This book is on many school reading lists; teachers interested in adding it to their curriculum can find a thorough discussion guide on the publisher's Web site. Teachers and parents can use Green's novel as a way to talk about big issues, such as loss and growing up, or explore the book's literary language or unusual structure to talk about the art of writing. See our own "Families Can Talk About" section for additional ideas.

Positive Messages

Looking for Alaska will give older teens a lot to think about, most obviously about loss and what it means to journey into a "Great Perhaps." This coming-of-age novel allows readers to learn more about the process and importance of forgiving not only others but ourselves when it comes to guilt and grief. The characters in this book deal with loss and responsibility in different ways, giving the readers a chance to evaluate their understanding of this concept as well.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even though the main characters often behave badly, readers will respond to the realistic teens here who come together to face a devastating loss. Also, every adult is warm, caring, and intelligent: The parents, the teachers, the local cop -- even the requisite rigid disciplinarian who enforces the rules at school is not clueless, has a sense of humor, and cares deeply about the students.  

Violence

A fatal car wreck, a possible suicide, and a character has gruesome dreams about the wreck and its aftermath. Cruel pranks are played on Miles and the other characters as well that often result in plans for revenge.

Sex

Most of the teen characters have lost their virginity, and there are some descriptions of heavy kissing, oral sex, groping, references to masturbation, erections, making out, watching pornography, etc. In a YouTube video, author John Green defends the book's frank sex scene, calling it  "wholly unerotic," especially in contrast to the book's next more intimate (but less graphic) encounter.

Language

Several instances of language with expletives, such as a**, sh**, and f***, that can be seen as realistic to teen dialogue.

 

Consumerism

Fast food restaurants, sodas.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There is lots of underage drinking, fake IDs, drunkenness and hangovers, drunk driving, etc., but as Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee, says in the publisher's discussion guide, "It's hard to imagine an adolescent reader coming away from this book thinking it's somehow smart and sophisticated to drink large quantities of alcohol." The same could be said of the constant smoking and references to marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book hits all the controversial pulse points: drinking, sex, bad language, and smoking, including marijuana smoking, but as Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee, says in the publisher's discussion guide, "There is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) gratuitous in this book. Everything in it serves to define character, give style to voice, and develop theme." Indeed, this award-winning book is on many high school reading lists and can help both teachers and parents talk about loss, friendship, and the importance of self discovery.  

User Reviews

Adult Written bysadmom April 23, 2013

WATCH OUT!

Holy cow. Be aware this book is available in many MIDDLE SCHOOLS, even though it contains a first-person account of oral sex as well as descriptions of porn fi... Continue reading
Parent of a 16 year old Written byObiMomKenobi February 9, 2011

Good for older teens, with parental guidance.

(While I liked this book, I would recommend reading it before you give it to your older teenager. It has content that you will possibly want to discuss with the... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bynerdglasses July 11, 2010

Books like this are a rare find.

Ah, this is such a beautiful book! The characters are so lifelike and multi-faceted, it's just wonderful. John Green does a fantastic job of balancing exci... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byohmyitskai August 27, 2010

MUST READ

I just wrote a really long review, but it didn't go through or something. The bottom line of is that it's an amazing book, and if you're worried... Continue reading

What's the story?

Miles, tired of his friendless, dull life in Florida, convinces his parents to send him away to boarding school in Alabama so that he can seek \"the Great Perhaps.\" There he meets his roommate and soon-to-be best friend, Chip, called the Colonel, and Alaska Young, the moody, gorgeous, wild girl who instantly becomes the object of his lust. Miles is quickly enlisted in their war against the Weekday Warriors, the rich kids who go home every weekend, and they bond over elaborate pranks, studying, and assorted rule-breaking. About halfway through the book a tragedy occurs, and those left spend the rest of the book trying to make sense of it, to solve the mystery it leaves behind, and to pull off one last, greatest-ever prank.

Is it any good?

This book richly deserves the awards it has won. It's gorgeously written -- passionate, hilarious, moving, thought-provoking, character-driven, and literary. The characters may often behave badly, but they are vividly real, complex, and beautifully drawn -- and their stories can help readers start dealing with some big topics, like self discovery and loss. This is a hard one to put down. Since new chapters don't start on new pages, there's always a temptation to read just a little bit further. For the first half at least, readers will be grinning all the way -- and in the end, they will be moved, maybe even to tears.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the book's mature content. In a YouTube video, author John Green defends the book's frank sex scene, calling it purposely "wholly unerotic" and asks critics, "Do you seriously think that teens aren't able to read critically?" Do you agree with his point of view?

  • What does Miles mean when he goes off to boarding school in search of what Francois Rabelais called "the Great Perhaps?"  Do we all need to go on a similar search to discover ourselves?

Book details

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