Miles “Pudge” Halter lives a safe, and very boring, life as the socially isolated child of doting parents in Florida; that is, until he decides to attend boarding school at his father’s alma mater, Culver Creek, just south of Birmingham, Alabama. He goes, he tells his parents at his lackluster going-away party, to seek his own “Great Perhaps” before he dies (like the poet François Rabelais). Miles gets more than he bargained for: A new group of friends, including his alcoholic roommate, Chip “the Colonel” Martin, and the sultry and self-destructive Alaska Young, make his new life anything but safe and predictable.Classes are tough and midnight pranks are staples at Culver Creek Boarding, but Miles seems to have settled into a good routine with his new friends and teachers. Then everyone goes home for Thanksgiving break except Pudge and Alaska, and Pudge discovers new and disturbing things about Alaska’s past that haunt them both. Alaska’s elusive demeanor keeps Miles at the fringes of her heart, and her off-campus relationship with boyfriend Jake keeps Pudge from ever physically consummating their relationship. Pudge’s romantic fantasies persevere, however, until a midnight tragedy on a cold, winter day brings the friends simultaneously closer together and further from the truth about Alaska.
This contemporary winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and finalist for the LA Times Book Prize provides a provocative moral mirror for older adolescents. Pudge’s philosophical musings and obsession with famous last words give groups much to discuss, especially among the virtues of Fidelity, Courage, and Charity. The lack of Temperance exhibited Pudge’s boarding-school friends, especially the Colonel and Alaska, provided ample opportunity for the students to reflect on their own self-control—or lack there-of. Stories of loss, death, and suicide enabled us to explore those topics in discussions and journaling exercises. As a community service project, this group chose the New Passages program at South Bend’s Center for the Homeless where they heard from substance abuse counselors and cleaned all of the organizations floors and carpets.
**Warning: This novel contains graphic language, substance use, and sexual innuendos. Students were able to convey the depth of this novel to their parents without providing explicit content, but parents who expressed interest in reading the novel were duly warned about the material. This book should be limited to high school students only. **