Study Guide

Alaska Young in Looking for Alaska

Alaska Young

Alaska remains a perpetual mystery in this book, both to Miles and to us as readers. She's also the most complex character, though her life ends in tragedy. So it's fitting that the last words Alaska ever says to Miles refer to a complicated maze:

"How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!" (128before.120)

We may not be able to help Alaska with her problems, but we can definitely try to sort out the labyrinth of Alaska.

What Makes Her Tick

Even though Green reveals Alaska's character intermittently through key conversations and actions throughout the book, it's worth it to start our conversation about her character with her mother's death. Miles, our narrator, doesn't find out about this life-altering event until midway through the book, and the same goes for Alaska's friends the Colonel and Takumi, who both knew her longer than Miles did.

But Miles is savvy enough to realize that this moment is "the central moment of Alaska's life" (2before.77)—in other words, this is the key to understanding why she acts the way she does.

So she became impulsive, scared by her inaction into perpetual action […] But more importantly, maybe she'd been scared of being paralyzed by fear again.

As a result of her mother's death, Alaska becomes submersed in guilt and blame, and these emotions drive a lot of her decisions. For instance, she tries to escape her suffering through drinking:

"Little kids can dial 911. They do it all the time. Give me the wine," she said, deadpan and emotionless. (2before.72)

Alaska becomes slightly obsessed with the dichotomy between death and life—in fact, we might think she's overcompensating for the death of her mother with her intense emotions. In Miles's words, Alaska goes "From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond" (49before.32); she's what some might lovingly refer to as a hot mess. And she makes macabre jokes about death, saying that she smokes to die and she may die young, but she'll die smart. These jokes have a different feel than those the Colonel makes about death—they seem darker, more imminent somehow.

Alaska's mother's death only fuels her self-destructive tendencies, perhaps because it's only when Alaska is doing something that could contribute to her destruction (drinking, smoking, cheating on her boyfriend, pranking) that she feels the most alive. For instance, during the prank on the Weekday Warriors, Miles realizes that the prank is just a prank, but "to Alaska, it seemed to be something else, something more" (threebefore.113).

More important than her fascination with death or her destructive tendencies, is the fact that Alaska feels both emotionally and physically homeless. We never know whether this is because of her mother's death or a situation Alaska has created for herself by failing to forgive herself, but we do know that home isn't just about a place for her. We come to understand that it's about the sense of security and unconditional love that Miles finds with his parents at home in Florida. And since it doesn't seem like Alaska seems to feel safe anywhere, this leaves her homeless even when surrounded by her friends at school.

What a Girl Wants

Okay, we get it—Alaska's a complicated creature. And she wants complicated things, some of which are clear and some that she would never ever in a million years announce.

The simple things Alaska wants are things like the ability to read her Life's Library. But while reading all of her books might seem like a simple enough pursuit, what it means is that she still has an appreciation for life and a plan for the future that hasn't yet been subsumed by her guilt over her mother's death.

She wants intimacy, and she tries to find it with Miles/Pudge. Even when he wants more (the first night of Thanksgiving break), she's got enough self-awareness to whisper, "Shh. Shh. Don't ruin it" (52before.14)—a move we could interpret as an attempt to preserve the simple intimacy she feels without complicating it by bringing sex into the mix. But… it doesn't last—at least, not for our girl Alaska—and her decision to make out with Miles the night of her death shows her impulsive nature controlling her more rational one.

But the central desire that directs Alaska and her actions is her need for forgiveness and her need for relief from her suffering and pain. Sadly though, she never gets this for several reasons. First, she's never able to forgive herself for her role in her mom's death, which Miles recognizes the night she admits her role:

When she said she failed everyone, I knew whom she meant. It was the everything and the everyone of her life. (2before.77)

He gets why she drinks, why she is impulsive, why is disloyal to her friends (remember, she got Marya kicked out)—and now we do too.

No Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

And that's the tragedy. Miles says that Alaska didn't have to drown in grief, but she did:

Forgetting her mother, failing her mother and her friends and herself—those are awful things, but she did not need to fold into herself and self-destruct. Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be. (136after.17)

She's incapable of forgiveness and will therefore (according to Miles) not be able to find her way out of her personal labyrinth of suffering. Herein lies the difference between Miles's grief for Alaska and Alaska's grief for her mother: the forgiveness of both the dead and the living. Miles has the strength to move on, but Alaska doesn't—and we can't help but hope, along with Miles, that after her death Alaska finds the forgiveness that she needed so much during life… wherever she is.