Looking For Alaska's Structure of Time *Spoilers*

Looking For Alaska is a beautifully romantic, yet dark, depressing novel by famous author John Green. It starts with introducing the main character, Miles, a dreary teenager who is obsessed with famous last words, and the reader takes on his point of view. But the unique thing about it is that the headline of the first chapter says “one hundred and thirty-six days before.” This immediately makes the reader think, one hundred and thirty-six days before what? That was John Green’s goal of writing the book in this structure, a countdown, to lure the reader in and to prepare them for whatever it is that is coming.

Countdowns can stir a range of emotions, it depends on the person. If you are impatient, you probably won’t like it. If you love anticipation and surprises, you will love it. That’s exactly whatever it is that’s coming, a surprise. Miles, the main character, wants to get away from his life and family in Florida and signs up for a boarding school in Alabama, and he explains his deeper reasoning: “So this guy, Francois Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ That is why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”

As the countdown has already started, one hundred and thirty-six days, the reader probably already assumes that that is the countdown to when Miles finds his “Great Perhaps.” The reader might be questioning, why is he thinking he’ll find it at a boarding school? He gets to the boarding school, and meets his roommate named ‘the Colonel.’ They become friends and Miles’ new nickname becomes Pudge.

The Colonel introduces Pudge to his friend Alaska. Now, the reader might be assuming that the countdown relates to Alaska, because the book is called “Looking for Alaska.” He instantly falls in love with her and throughout the book he never tells her and never feels as if he’s good enough for her. They share knowledge with each other, and as time ticks on they become closer and closer. The reader may already be assuming that whatever this countdown is leading to, it may be a tragedy, which is a turn, because in the beginning you think of the “Great Perhaps” as a happy thing.

As the amount of days get lower, the reader is probably getting more and more anxious, and just wants to skip those pages all together. It locks them into the book, which was smart of the author, because who would want to leave a book and never find out what happens? Sure, you can skip pages to the part, but what's the fun in that? The structure definitely doesn’t take an instant, or as Pudge says, an instant doesn’t even exist. “What the hell is instant? Nothing is instant. Instant rice takes five minute, instant pudding an hour. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.”

Reviewers weighed in on the how they feel on the structure, ¨With a structure like this, we learn the before and the after of the main event, which is something you don't see in a lot of books. Too often we're just thrown into the middle of a story with no explanation as to how the characters got there or how they know each other. However, here we start at the beginning and meet Alaska and the Colonel at exactly the same time the protagonist, Miles 'Pudge' Halter, does.¨

Without the countdown, this book would have no path. Sure, the story would stay the same, but the event could happen at any given time without any sort of preparation. The reader is there throughout Pudge’s adventure. They see him meet the Colonel and Alaska and watch his life change from boring into amazing. Although the book gives barely any details about Pudge’s past, the reader can conclude that it wasn’t anything like it was at that boarding school. Pudge is introduced to alcohol, cigarettes, pranks, actually having friends, and of course, love.

One day before. Pudge, the Colonel, and Alaska pull pranks on the Eagle, the head of the school, by setting off fireworks in the woods to annoy him, because they don’t particularly like him. They get into trouble with the Eagle a lot throughout the book, and plenty of times they were almost banned. They all go back to the room and get drunk. Things go forward with Pudge and Alaska, they kiss. But then all of a sudden Alaska starts freaking out, drunk out of her mind, saying that she has to drive to go see her boyfriend since it was their 8 month anniversary. She leaves, and the reader can already assume what will happen.

The after section of the book starts immediately in the center of the book. The reader might assume the after section already starts with Pudge knowing what happens, but it doesn’t. Pudge wakes up, still feeling alive from the night before with the love of his life, nothing feeling out of the ordinary. He and the Colonel go to the gym, because the Eagle had an announcement to make. The book is all coming together for the reader now, the answer to their everlong question, “what’s going to happen?”, is right in front of them.

Alaska died in a car accident that night. The reader is probably flooding with emotions along with Pudge. Nothing is the same for Pudge, the light was drained from his life as he reflected on the things he did with Alaska and the words he never said to her, which was that he loved her. The reader thinks it couldn’t get worse than that, until they find out the full story of Alaska’s death, and that the fireworks they were setting off in the woods was a contributing factor of the accident. Heartbroken, guilty, miserable. They are all major understatements to describe how Pudge felt.

Time passes. Miles tries to solve Alaska’s death to make him feel less empty. They talk to her boyfriend, they figure out how drunk she was, they study it to see if it was intentional. The reader might have assumed that the after section wouldn’t be as long as the before, but they were the same exact length. How the reader feels after, it really depends on them. They might've felt as if the time structure certainly fit the book, or they might feel as if it would’ve been the same without that structure. At the end, time doesn’t heal Pudge, but eventually, he comes to terms with his loss of Alaska. “At some point, you just pull off the Band-Aid, and it hurts, but then it's over and you're relieved.”

"Looking For Alaska - Review." The Guardian. N.p., 22 Mar. 2013. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fchildrens-books-site%2F2013%2Fmar%2F22%2Freview-looking-for-alaska-john-green>.

Comments (1)

Adam Cavalier (Student 2017)
Adam Cavalier

I didn't know that countdowns can create different emotions based on who the person is. One writing technique that I would steal is using a quote in the thesis.