Looking for Alaska tells the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, a high school junior who divides his life into time before and time after a life-changing event that the reader will not discover until later in the novel.
Miles plans to attend the Culver Creek boarding school for his junior year of high school. Although his parents worry that Miles wants to attend the school because he does not have friends at his current school, Miles reveals that he is actually influenced by the last words of the poet François Rabelais about “seeking the Great Perhaps.” He moves to Birmingham, Alabama to attend Culver Creek and becomes friends with his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin. Chip teaches Miles about the social structure of the school. He explains that the wealthy students that go home to their parents’ mansions every weekend (the “Weekday Warriors”) do not get along with his friend group.
Chip introduces Miles to his friend Alaska, and Miles is quickly enamored by her. While Miles is obsessed with people’s final words and wants to seek François Rabelais’s “Great Perhaps,” Alaska enjoys books and wants to know the nature of “the labyrinth of suffering” that Simón Bolívar evoked in his final words.
The Weekday Warriors sneak into Chip and Miles’s dorm on Miles’s first night and throw Miles into the lake with his limbs bound by tape. Chip and Miles discover that this action was taken in retaliation for Chip supposedly ratting out their friends—a couple named Marya and Paul—and getting them expelled the previous year. Miles, Chip, Alaska, and another friend, Takumi, begin planning a revenge prank. Miles becomes part of their friend group and starts smoking cigarettes. The four of them get caught smoking and Alaska and Chip cover for Miles and Takumi, demonstrating to Miles that you cover for your friends instead of ratting them out.
Miles settles into his new school and does well in his classes because he spends so much time studying. Alaska decides she will find Miles a girlfriend, and eventually introduces him to a Romanian student named Lara. Miles embarrasses himself on the first group date at a basketball game with Alaska, Alaska’s boyfriend Jake, Chip, Chip’s girlfriend Sara, Takumi, and Lara. Miles is hit by a basketball, gets concussed, and then vomits on Lara. Afterward, Miles tries to talk to Alaska, but is confused when Alaska becomes moody and short with him for no apparent reason.
The Weekday Warriors target Alaska with a prank, reminding Chip and Alaska they need to work on their own revenge prank. Takumi reveals to Miles that it was actually Alaska who ratted out the couple who were expelled the previous year. Takumi warns Miles that he cannot rat anyone else out if he gets caught carrying out the revenge prank. Miles is still infatuated with Alaska and asks his parents to let him stay at school over Thanksgiving break so he can be with her. Although he knows she has a boyfriend, Miles wants to be with Alaska. They ultimately spend Thanksgiving Day with Chip and his mom.
Lara joins Alaska, Chip, Takumi, and Miles as they execute their revenge prank on the Weekday Warriors. They set off fireworks and put dye in the Weekday Warriors’ hair products. They also get on the computer of the Dean (whom they call “the Eagle”) to send bad grade reports to the parents of the Weekday Warriors. The five of them spend the remainder of the night and weekend camping and hiding in a barn on campus as their alibi is that they were all off campus. They play a drinking game and Alaska reveals that, as a child, she saw her mom die of an aneurysm and did not call an ambulance because she thought her mom was just sleeping. When they quit playing the drinking game, Miles kisses Lara. He asks if she wants to be his girlfriend and she says yes.
Miles spends time with Lara despite not having much to talk about, but they are physically intimate. He leaves Lara to spend time with Alaska and Chip in his room, watching them as they get drunk. Alaska dares Miles to make out with her. He does and she tells him it is to be continued in the future. They all go to sleep. Chip and Miles are startled awake later by Alaska frantically telling them she needs to leave because she had forgotten something. They provide a distraction for the Eagle so she can get in her car and drive away unnoticed.
The Eagle calls an assembly to announce to the student body that Alaska has died. Miles asks what happened and is informed that she drove straight into a police cruiser with its lights and sirens on, likely due to driving while intoxicated. Both Chip and Miles feel responsible for her death because they helped her drive away when they knew she was drunk. They mourn in different ways and attend Alaska’s funeral.
Miles and Chip go through Alaska’s room to see if there is anything they want to keep. They find a note she wrote in one of her books that said “straight and fast” was the way out of the labyrinth of suffering. This revelation makes Chip and Miles think she may have killed herself. Chip is eager to investigate her death and Miles reluctantly agrees to help.
Religion class becomes more important to Miles after Alaska’s death because its subject matter becomes more real. Chip and Miles vent their anger to each other that so many people who did not know Alaska like they did are mourning her death. Chip leads their investigation into Alaska’s death.
Chip and Miles interview the police officer who saw Alaska crash. Their interview supports their belief that she killed herself, so they research suicide warning signs. They do not remember Alaska exhibiting many of the warning signs and continue their investigation. Meanwhile, Miles avoids Lara. Takumi questions Miles about whether he is still dating Lara, and Takumi demands that Chip and Miles tell him about what they have been doing. They agree to tell him about their investigation in the future.
Chip plans to see if Alaska might have been unable to swerve because of how drunk she was. He and Miles steal a breathalyzer from the Eagle and Chip drinks enough alcohol to match Alaska’s blood alcohol level at her time of death. He believes she would have been able to swerve, so he plans to call Jake, Alaska’s boyfriend, as a final effort. Miles is against calling Jake, but Chip does it anyway. They learn that Alaska told Jake that she would call him later, which further confuses the question of whether she killed herself or not.
Chip and Miles do not know what to investigate next, so they turn their attention to planning a prank in memory of Alaska. Chip pulls out plans Alaska had made for a prank, and Chip and Miles recruit other juniors at the school to execute it. They hire a male stripper, posing as a psychologist, to give a presentation at a Speaker’s Day event at their school. He delivers a speech about subverting the patriarchal paradigm and performs in front of the whole student body.
Later in the year, Takumi points out to Chip and Miles that the date of Alaska’s death coincides with the date of the story Alaska shared with them about her mother’s death when they played a drinking game in the barn. The boys realize she must have forgotten the anniversary of her mother’s death and was driving to her grave to deliver flowers. Although they still feel guilty for helping her drive away drunk, and they do not know for sure whether it was an accident or suicide, they feel like they now have the closure they needed.
“Straight and fast” was Alaska’s way out of the labyrinth of suffering, but Miles decides to choose the labyrinth over an escape. Miles feels more confident about seeking the Great Perhaps, despite the grief he experienced by loving and losing Alaska.