Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
New York Times bestseller
Miles “Pudge” Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.”
Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally.
John Green’s stunning debut marks the arrival of a stand-out new voice in young adult fiction.
An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers
A 2005 Booklist Editors’ Choice
A Kirkus Best Book of 2005
A 2005 SLJ Best Book of the Year
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
“What sets this novel apart is the brilliant, insightful, suffering but enduring voice of Miles Halter.” –Chicago Tribune
“Funny, sad, inspiring, and always compelling.” –Bookpage
“Stunning conclusion . . . one worthy of a book this good.” –Philadelphia Inquirer
“The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on.” –Kliatt
“What sings and soars in this gorgeously told tale is Green’s mastery of language and the sweet, rough edges of Pudge’s voice. Girls will cry and boys will find love, lust, loss and longing in Alaska’s vanilla-and-cigarettes scent.” Kirkus, starred review
“Miles’s narration is alive with sweet, self-deprecating humor, and his obvious struggle to tell the story truthfully adds to his believability. Like Phineas in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Green draws Alaska so lovingly, in self-loathing darkness as well as energetic light, that readers mourn her loss along with her friends.” –SLJ, starred review
“…Miles is a witty narrator who manages to be credible as the overlooked kid, but he’s also an articulate spokesperson for the legions of teen searching for life meaning (his taste for famous last words is a believable and entertaining quirk), and the Colonel’s smarts, clannish loyalties, and relentlessly methodological approach to problems make him a true original….There’s a certain recursive fitness here, since this is exactly the kind of book that makes kids like Miles certain that boarding school will bring them their destiny, but perceptive readers may also realize that their own lives await the discovery of meaning even as they vicariously experience Miles’ quest.” –Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
“Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author.” –Publishers Weekly
“John Green has written a powerful novel—one that plunges headlong into the labyrinth of life, love, and the mysteries of being human. This is a book that will touch your life, so don’t read it sitting down. Stand up, and take a step into the Great Perhaps.”
—K.L. Going, author of Fat Kid Rules the World, a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book
First and foremost, what’s your favorite snack to eat while writing?
Unfortunately, typing requires two hands and eating requires atleast one, which is why one meets a lot of pale, gaunt writers. Unlike most authors, though, my “writing” involves very little in the way of typing. I mostly stare at the computer and eat Cheez-Its.
What made you decide to write this book?
Some of it has its roots in my high-school experiences. But the story came together in my head while I was working as a chaplain at a children’s hospital. It was there that I imagined the character of Alaska for the first time, and there that I decided to write a novel for teens. Also, I wanted to write a book because I felt, deep inside my heart, that it would make my ex-girlfriends regret dumping me.
Where do you do most of your writing?
My apartment has a basement, which my roommates and I call “the Hole.” We all work in theHole. My roommate, the architect, has his drafting board down here, and my roommate, the law student, sits down here in the lay-z-boy and reads these intimidatingly thick law books, and I sit with my feet propped up on my desk, eating Cheez-Its.
Have you started working on next book? Can you give us a sneak peak?
My next book is about a washed-up child prodigy who has dated 19 girls, each of whom dumped him and each of whom was named Katherine. It’s called An Abundance of Katherines, and it is, I’ll admit, semiautobiographical. I wasn’t a child prodigy or anything,and I’ve dated more Sarahs than Katherines, but I have been dumped 19 times.
What were your own high school experiences like — and how (if at all) do they figure into your writing and affect the way you write about your character’s lives?
Like the narrator of my book, Pudge Halter, I’m a skinny dork with a last-words obsession who attended a boarding school in Alabama. But the similarities end there, mostly: Pudge is cuter than I ever was and considerably more charming. I was a bit of a troublemaker in high school, though the trouble I made was never terribly serious. I suppose I was the kind of kid who constantly gets accused of failing to “fulfill” his “potential.” Pudge isn’t like that all, but I’d be lying if I said my high-school experiences didn’t inspire much of what transpires in Looking for Alaska.
Did you pull off any pranks in high school? If so, what is the most memorable?
A lot of brilliant pranks were pulled during my time at boarding school, but I wasn’t involved in most of them. My greatest personal pranking accomplishment probably came in the spring of my sophomore year. Amidst an epic prank war, my roommate and I borrowed an enemy senior’s car and parallel parked it in such a way that it blocked the entrance to the school, making it impossible for anyone to drive on or off of campus. While I don’t recommend this course of action to anyone, I’ll say this: Algebra II was canceled that morning.
Why do you write for teens and what interests you about this audience?
I like writing for teenagers because big questions—about love and religion and compassion and grief—matter to teens in a very visceral way. And it’s fun to write teenage characters. They’re funny and clever and feel so much so intensely.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
It’s hard to even pick some of my favorite authors. This would be much easier if you’d ask me who some of my favorite ex-girlfriends are, because then I’d just answer with silence and we’d all have a good laugh. I’m going to set the limit at 10 and break them up into two teams of five a side: The Living Team: J. D. Salinger, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, and Toni Morrison. The Dead Team: Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Robert Penn Warren. (I was going to put James Joyce and Leo Tolstoy on the Dead Team, but then the Dead Team would have won in a blow-out, and I want it to be a good match-up.)
What are you reading now?
I’m rereading Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston, you’ll note, didn’t make The Dead Team, but you could certainly make a case for her—it’s a flat-out marvel of a book. Also, I’m reading Shelby Foote’s three-volume history ofthe Civil War. I’ve been reading it off and on for almost ten years, and so far, I’ve only made it halfway through volume 2. It’s hard to get into, because I know how it’s going to end. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone, but I’m pretty sure the South loses. And on the kids’ side, I’m reading Ilene Cooper’s wonderful Sam I Am.
Do you know someone like Alaska? Pudge?
I don’t know anyone like Alaska anymore, but I used to. In high school, particularly, I was irrepressibly attracted to people with Alaska’s charisma and adventurousness. And I certainly know someone like Pudge: Me. In some ways, Pudge and I are different (Pudge hates novels, I love them; Pudge likes oatmeal cream pies, and I think they cause cancer). But I see a lot of Pudge in myself.
The whole dying words thing is a little morbid. Why do you think Pudge is so fascinated by them?
People’s last words are morbid, but they’re also often fun. (I think of a dying Oscar Wilde looking up at his garishly decorated hotel room and saying, “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.”) I think Pudge likes last words because he likes history, he likes knowing what happened to people and why it happened, and he believes (as I do) that how people die often reveals a lot about how they lived.
Best day/Worst day?
Best Day Ever: It hasn’t quite happened yet. At the very end of the modern cinematic classic Back to the Future, there’s a scene where Mr. McFly gets a package. And inside the package are finished copies of his new novel. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been dreaming about the day when I tear open a box and find copies of my own book inside. So right now, that’s slated to be my next Best Day Ever, and I’m pretty sure it will remain so until I get married.
Worst Day Ever: When I was in middle school, my parents convinced me to go to the Cotillion, which was like a dance, only more horrible, because all the other kids who attended were really popular. I made the mistake of asking one of the girls to dance. She declined, whereupon I burst into tears. I have no idea why I started crying, but I felt very alone and rejected and ugly and generally like I would never be popular (the latter of which was pretty much true). A Cotillion chaperone had to call my dad to come pick me up. But that was also a good day in some ways, because it was the first time I ever saw my dad cry, and there is something nice about having your dad understand how you feel.
Favorite last words?
In the dying wittily category, I have to pick Oscar Wilde. Dying in a garishly decorated hotel room, Wilde said, “Either this wallpaper goes—or I do.” But for beauty, I sure like Emily Dickinson’s. “I must go in,” she said. “The fog is rising.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it says on your website that you were a finalist for “Chicago’s most fabulous 20somethings.” Did you win?
I did, oddly enough. My girlfriend nominated me as a joke, and then, lo and behold, it turns out that I am actually fabulous. I feel like this speaks poorly of Chicago’s 20somethings as a whole, since even my girlfriend will tell you that while I have my redeeming qualities, I am not overwhelmingly fabulous. *That whole story, for example is a total lie. I never went to a career counselor. Forgive me. I have to keep practicing so my lying stays sharp.