All these years later, Looking For Alaska has the look of a period piece. The show’s teenagers exist in the pre-smartphone age. When Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer) gets dropped off at Alabama’s Culver Creek boarding school in 2005, he’s immediately cut off from his parents and hometown in Florida. In this bubble, Miles can get up to shenanigans with Alaska (Kristine Froseth), figure out how to survive the Labyrinth, and find the Great Perhaps (you’ll understand it all soon).
Like so many first novels, Looking For Alaska is vaguely autobiographical. Green modeled Culver Creek off his high school: The Indian Springs School outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Green credits the school with making him who he is today (so, a rockstar writer, a YouTube emperor, an advocate for mental illness, and so on).
Looking For Alaska was Green’s attempt to recapture those high school days, when he loved his peers fiercely and boundlessly. “I wrote the book to attempt time travel,” he said in a YouTube video. ”Maybe through fiction, I would be allowed back into the home from which time had expelled me.”
Green sees himself in his characters.
Looking For Alaska is a work of fiction. However, there are definite similarities between Pudge and Green — and Green is more than willing to admit them.
“So, my first novel is about a guy from Florida who is obsessed with the dying words of famous people and then leaves home to go to a boarding school in Alabama. And I myself was once a guy from Florida who is obsessed with the dying words of famous people and then leaves home to go to a boarding school in Alabama,” Green said in a YouTube video aptly named “Looking for Alaska at My High School” on the vlogbrothers channel he runs with his brother, Hank.
Green was only 23 when he started writing the novel, and he says he saw himself in Miles, as well as the other characters. “Alaska’s self-destructiveness was mine. The Colonel’s fits of rage were mine,” Green said in a video filmed with the show’s stars. “Since the book was published, I was always worried I left too much exposed.”
Culver Creek is based on Green’s real high school
The place Looking For Alaska is most factual is in its setting. “Culver Creek is almost inch for inch the same place as Indian Springs in 1995,” Green said.
In a video, Green takes fans on a tour of the book’s settings. There’s a view of the field where Miles’ eyes inevitable wander during smoking class. The swan in the pond (the swan is a metaphor). The bridge over Bishop Creek where kids gathered to smoke. The bench where Miles and Alaska, his crush, have their first of many mystifying talks.
Like Miles, Green sweated through Alabama weather without AC. “My boarding school did not (at the time) have AC. Window units were only available if you got a letter from a doctor saying you had asthma,” Green wrote in the FAQ portion of his website.
There really was an Alaska.
Green addresses the question that every reader wonders in the FAQ on his website: Did Green know an Alaska? And by an Alaska, we mean an ethereal, mysterious, alluring girl who died too young?
“When I was a student at Indian Springs, a classmate of mine died, and her death was devastating to the entire community. My relationship with her was nothing like Pudge’s relationship with Alaska (I was much more like the fake mourners that Pudge rails against), but she was someone I liked and admired a lot, and even now that it has been almost 20 years, I still don’t feel reconciled to what happened,” Green wrote.
Green is reticent to speak further about Alaska’s real-life counterpart in detail — and with reason. Apparently, some of Green’s classmates weren’t happy with the novelization of their high school years.
“Some of my classmates were understandably upset about the ways in which the novel reimagined and reinvented certain events that actually happened to us, and I want insofar as possible not to further that hurt,” Green said.
So you can look, but the real Alaska will never be found.