Study Guide

Looking for Alaska Home

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Chapter 1
Minor Characters

"Is this why you want to leave, Miles?" Mom asked. I mulled it over for a while, careful not to look at her.

"Uh, no," I said.

"Well, why then?" she asked. This was not the first time she had posed the question. Mom was not particularly keen on letting me go to boarding school and had made no secret of it. (136before.13-15)

Not many parents would understand why Miles wants to leave home, but he has a pretty good explanation when he drags out Rabelais's quote about the Great Perhaps. He's looking for something more. And we have to ask if it's always necessary to leave home—a place of comfort and security for many people—to find it and to mature.

Chapter 12
Alaska Young

"But this is the seventh time I've been caught smoking. I just don't want—whatever. I don't want to upset my dad." (98before.3)

Alaska gives a little insight into her relationship with her dad (at this point, we don't know her mom died). Part of the mystery of Alaska in the first part of the novel is puzzling out why she avoids home and her dad as much as possible.

Chapter 17
Miles Halter

"I just don't get why she'd be so afraid of getting expelled. I'd hate to get expelled, but you have to take your lumps. I don't get it."

"Well, she obviously doesn't like home."

"True. She only goes home over Christmas and the summer, when Jake is there. But whatever. I don't like home, either." (67before.19-21)

Miles learns that Takumi also doesn't really like home either, but the way Alaska fears and avoids home almost paralyzes her. We wonder what could be so bad about home that she avoids it so much, only going when she has a boyfriend there as a buffer.

Chapter 18
Miles Halter

"So why don't you go home for vacations?" I asked her.

"I'm just scared of ghosts, Pudge. And home is full of them." (58before.48-49)

Giant clue about Alaska here—ghosts imply a lack of security, a lack of safety that we generally want to associate with home. What emotions, given what we know about her at this point in the book, does Alaska associate with home?

I thought of the one thing about home that I missed, my dad's study with its built-in, floor-to-ceiling shelves sagging with thick biographies, and the black leather chair that kept me just uncomfortable enough to keep from feeling sleepy as I read. It was stupid, to feel as upset as I did. I ditched them, but it felt the other way around. Still, I felt unmistakably homesick. (58before.41)

The funny thing about place is the memories and emotions that we associate with it. Miles is the one who chose to spend a traditionally home-centric holiday away from home, so why is it that he is the one who feels ditched?

How could I abandon my parents, who were nice enough to pay for my education at Culver Creek, my parents who had always loved me, just because I maybe liked some girl with a boyfriend? How could I leave them alone with a giant turkey and mounds of inedible cranberry sauce? So during third period, I called my mom at work. (58before.39)

Miles feels so guilty for so many things in this book, not the least of which is how he treats the people and the place that has been his home since he was born. So here's the struggle: does he have to pick one or the other? Florida or the Creek?

Chapter 23
Miles Halter

We laughed and drank our wine, and then after the meal, we each listed our gratitudes. My family always did that before the meal, and we all just rushed through it to get to the food. So the four of us sat around the table and shared our blessings. I was thankful for the fine food and the fine company, for having a home on Thanksgiving. "A trailer, at least," Dolores joked. (46before.2)

Thanksgiving with the Colonel reminds Miles of Thanksgiving with his parents. What exactly is it about the experience that makes it feel like home for Miles? (Hint: Think about rituals and traditions.)

I sat in the back of the hatchback on the drive home—and that is how I thought of it: home—and fell asleep to the highway's monotonous lullaby. (46before.7)

Miles moves from one home to another. What makes Culver Creek a home to him? What about the place, the people, the traditions, and the emotions create a sense of home to Miles?

Chapter 24
Alaska Young

"Maybe you just need to tell us all why you told on Marya. Were you scared of going home or something?"

She pulled away from me and gave me a Look of Doom that would have made the Eagle proud, and I felt like she hated me or hated my question or both, and then she looked away, out the window, toward the soccer field, and said, "There's no home." (44before.23-24)

Contrast Alaska's feeling of home with what Miles felt on Thanksgiving. Remember: home isn't just a place, it's a lot of other stuff too. So when Alaska says there's no home, she's not just talking about the place—she's talking about people, emotions, and traditions too. What happens to people who are homeless?

Chapter 39
Miles Halter

Screw this, I thought, and for the first time, I imagined just going back home, ditching the Great Perhaps for the old comforts of school friends. (13after.36)

Ultimately Miles chooses to stay at the Creek, but he thinks about the comforts of home and how they are both welcome but also limiting. So now we have to think about what home means to Miles by the end of the novel.

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