Looking for Alaska

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Looking for Alaska Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Teens process tragic loss in thought-provoking novel.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 46 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 197 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 website. 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. 

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." When it comes to guilt and grief, it's important to forgive not only others but also ourselves. People deal with loss and responsibility in different ways.

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. Author John Green has described the frank sex scene as "wholly unerotic," especially in contrast to the book's next more intimate (but less graphic) encounter.

Language

Occasional strong language, including "ass," "s--t," and f--k," in realistic teen dialogue.

 

Consumerism

Fast food restaurants, soda brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of underage drinking, fake IDs, drunkenness and hangovers, drunk driving, etc., but it's alcohol is not glamorized. Nor is the constant smoking or references to marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that John Green's Looking for Alaska won the Michael J. Printz Award and many other literary awards. It's the story of a group of fun-loving, rule-breaking teens who are rocked by a tragedy and must process the grief and loss. There's lots of sex (descriptions of heavy kissing, oral sex, groping, references to masturbation, erections, making out, watching pornography), drinking, strong language (including "s--t" and f--k"), and smoking, including of marijuana, but nothing is gratuitous or glamorized. It all illuminates character and theme. This award-winning book is considered a modern classic and is on many high school reading lists. It can help both teachers and parents talk about loss, friendship, and the importance of self-discovery.  

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byLena M February 23, 2010

Stop mollycoddling.

This book has plenty of educational points and is therefore being used in English classes across America. If you took the time to read the Author's blog po... 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, 13 years old Written byEinundzwanzigersten April 21, 2017

Good book

This is a good book, but WARNING, there is a lot of smoking, swearing and there is an account of oral sex and there is a scene where the characters watch porn.... Continue reading

What's the story?

In LOOKING FOR ALASKA, 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 coming-of-age novel is gorgeously written, passionate, hilarious, moving, thought-provoking, character-driven, and literary. It deserves all the awards it's won. 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. Looking for Alaska 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 mature content iin Looking for Alaska, including a frank sex scene. Do you think including it was essential to the story? What does it tell readers about the characters?

  • What does Miles mean when he goes off to boarding school in search of what 16th-century French author Francois Rabelais called "the Great Perhaps"? Do we all need to go on a similar search to discover ourselves?

  • Why do you think Looking for Alaska has often turned up on the American Library Association's Most Frequently Challenged book list? Why do you think it remains so popular with teens years after it was originally published? 

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