"Looking For Alaska," Vocabulary from Before: 136-87 Days

October 17, 2013
"Looking for Alaska" involves pranks at a boarding school, but it is no care-free romp. John Green's novel is populated by kids with serious difficulties trying to deal with them, and the book handles this subject matter in a realistic way, which means that happy, or even neat, endings are not guaranteed.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Before: 136-87 Days, Before: 84-0 Days, After
The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.
Although I was more or less forced to invite all my “school friends,” i.e., the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria of my public school, I knew they wouldn’t come.
Still, my mother persevered, awash in the delusion that I had kept my popularity secret from her all these years.
He got through the A’s before looking up and noticing my incredulous stare.
It was an indulgence, learning last words.
He told me this while ripping through his duffel bag, throwing clothes into drawers with reckless abandon.
Her library filled her bookshelves and then overflowed into waist-high stacks of books everywhere, piled haphazardly against the walls.
I mean, I hate the rich snots here with a fervent passion I usually reserve only for dental work and my father.
She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor.
“Yeah, you’re not bad either,” I said, overwhelmed by her compliment.
But Takumi felt no such modesty—he could, and did, eat and chew and swallow while talking.
I wondered why no one had shown the common courtesy to tell me to put on shoes, and why was I out there in my underwear, chicken legs exposed to the world?
A thousand humiliations crossed my mind: There’s the new junior, Miles Halter, handcuffed to the soccer goal wearing only his boxers.
My French I class back in Florida did not prepare me for Madame O’Malley, who skipped the “how was your summer” pleasantries and dove directly into something called the passé compose, which is apparently a verb tense.
And the way her mouth curled up on the right side all the time, like she was preparing to smirk, like she’d mastered the right half of the Mona Lisa’s inimitable smile.
A vestige from when Culver Creek was a Christian boys’ school, I figured the World Religions class, required of every junior and senior, might be an easy A.
I hated talking, and I hated listening to everyone else stumble on their words and try to phrase things in the vaguest possible way so they wouldn’t sound dumb, and I hated how it was all just a game of trying to figure out what the teacher wanted to hear and then saying it.
After my last class of my first week at Culver Creek, I entered Room 43 to an unlikely sight: the diminutive and shirtless Colonel, hunched over an ironing board, attacking a pink button-down shirt.
The Old Man, who obviously did not tolerate vocalized rambling, cut me off.
For fifty minutes a day, five days a week, you abide by my rules.
I don’t understand why you’re so obsessed with figuring out everything that happens here, like we have to unravel every mystery.
“Yeah, Pudge is adorable / but you want incorrigible / so Jake is more endurable / ’cause he’s so—damn."
She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes.
Although I’d never ridden in it, Alaska apparently had a car, and she offered to drive the Colonel and me to McDonald’s, but the Colonel didn’t have any money, and I didn’t have much either, what with constantly paying for his extravagant cigarette habit.
I didn’t hate him like the Colonel did, of course, because the Colonel hated him on principle, and principled hate is a hell of a lot stronger than “Boy, I wish you hadn’t mummified me and thrown me into the lake” hate.
Still, I tried to stare at him intimidatingly as he looked at the Colonel, but it was hard to forget that this guy had seen my skinny ass in nothing but boxers a couple weeks ago.
Like any good teacher, she tolerated little dissension.
She smoked and talked and ate for an hour without stopping, and I scribbled in my notebook as the muddy waters of tangents and cosines began to clarify.
As she talked, she bobbed her head back and forth to the MTV music, even though the song was the kind of manufactured pop ballad she professed to hate.
The Colonel blew smoke rings, and Takumi called them “ pretentious,” while Alaska followed the smoke rings with her fingers, stabbing at them like a kid trying to pop bubbles.
I sat in the hall with my back against the wall and read my American history textbook (kind of remedial reading for me, to be honest) until Alaska showed up and sat down next to me.
“Don’t abuse your privileges at this school, young man, or you will regret it.”
If I were you, I’d sit down, look cute, and be your pleasantly aloof self.
I don’t know whether it was the general anxiety of being on a date (albeit one with my would-be date sitting five people away from me) or the specific anxiety of having the Beast stare in my direction, but for some reason, I took off running after Takumi.
And I vaguely remember Lara smiling at me from the doorway, the glittering ambiguity of a girl’s smile, which seems to promise an answer to the question but never gives it.

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