Before

Chapter 1 - One hundred thirty-six days before

Page: 9

Setting: Miles’ home in Florida

Characters: Miles, Miles’ parents, Marie Larson, Will

At his own request, Miles Halter is going to be transferred from his high school based in Florida to the Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama. His mother insists on throwing a farewell party for him. Miles has no friends and knows no one will come. In the end, only two classmates show up that evening. Miles finds them boring. When they are gone, Miles' parents look at him with pity. His mother asks if he wants to go to boarding school because he has no friends in Florida. His father believes Miles wants to do so because he too went to Culver Creek.

Then, Miles explains the real reason for his wish. He picks up the biography of François Rabelais, a French poet. It is his hobby to read the biographies of famous people. Miles quotes Rabelais’ last words, saying that now that he is dying, he will seek the "Great Perhaps" (p. 10). Miles also wants to seek this Great Perhaps, but while he is still alive. His parents understand him. His father hugs him, and they decide to watch a documentary together. 

Chapter 2 - One hundred twenty-eight days before

Page: 12

Setting: Culver Creek boarding school, 20 km south of Birmingham, Alabama

Characters: Miles, Miles’ parents, Colonel, Alaska

When Miles arrives at Culver Creek boarding school in Florida, he shares a double room (Room 43) with Chip Martin. Chip immediately starts talking about himself, telling Miles that his talent is memorizing things. Miles then tells Chip of his passion for the last words of famous people.

Chip is in his third year at Culver Creek and has a scholarship. He also shares with Miles that his parents are separated and his father is an alcoholic. Eventually Chip leaves the room and expects Miles to follow him, but Miles doesn't understand. Only after Chip prompts him does he finally follow him. Together, they retrieve Chip's furniture from the TV room, where the students store their furniture during summer vacation.

Chip points out that he is not Miles' ticket into the cool groups at school (p. 17). There are two groups at school, the regular boarders and the "Weekday Warriors". These are the rich kids who go home every weekend. Miles confesses that he wasn't one of the cool ones at his old school either. Chip takes this as a confirmation of friendship and tells Miles that his nickname is “the Colonel”. He then gives Miles the nickname "Pudge" (p. 18), even though he is rather skinny. 

Then they head to Alaska's room to get cigarettes. Miles is immediately fascinated by Alaska. She tells a rather embarrassing and awkward story about how an old boyfriend grabbed her breasts during the summer vacation. She finds it funny. Only afterwards does she ask who Miles is. The Colonel introduces Miles with the addition that “he memorizes people’s last words”. 

Afterwards, Miles and the Colonel go to the lake, sit in a Hollywood swing, and Miles takes his first drag of a cigarette. He has to cough hard and is convinced that he will never smoke a cigarette again. The Colonel tells him about the swan that was put out on the lake by "the Eagle," Mr. Starnes, the dean of students. The swan is very aggressive and is meant to keep the students from wandering aimlessly and smoking at the lake. The Colonel goes on to tell him about the Eagle. He is the only one living in the dorm circle. He is also a keen observer and sees everything and smells cigarette smoke too.

According to the Colonel, the most important commandment at the school is not to snitch on anyone. Even if you get caught, you can't involve anyone else. The Colonel leaves Miles alone because he has to go look for his girlfriend. Just as Miles is about to leave too, Alaska arrives. She asks if Miles really knows last words by heart. She has brought one of her favorite books by Gabriel García Márquez, The General in his Labyrinth, a historical novel about Simón Bolívar whose last words are, “How am I going to get out of this labyrinth?” (p. 22). She wants to know from him what the labyrinth is. Instead of answering her, Miles asks about the many books in her room. She says she buys books that look interesting, so she collects her “Life’s Library.” Now that she is young, she doesn't have time to read, because she wants to spend her time smoking, having sex, and swinging around on swings.

Alaska talks about her friendship with the Colonel, with whom she joined Culver Creek as freshmen. She, too, has been awarded a scholarship. She and the Colonel share a passion for "booze and mischief." Alaska got him his first girlfriend and pulled his first school prank with him. Since then, they have perfected their pranks. Miles thinks that Chip probably has his nickname, Colonel, because he strategically plans the pranks. Alaska thinks Miles is just as smart as the Colonel, but quieter and cuter. However, she points out that she's not really allowed to say that because she has a boyfriend whom she loves.

Finally, Alaska proposes a deal. Miles should solve the labyrinth question and she will help him find a girl to have sex with. On the way back to school, they have an intimate moment. Alaska asks: “When you’re walking at night, do you ever get creeped out and even though it’s silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?” (p. 23) Miles admits that he does, although the question is actually too personal for him. Alaska then grabs his hand and runs away with him.

Chapter 3 - One hundred twenty-seven days before

Page: 24

Setting: Culver Creek

Characters: Miles, Colonel, Takumi and other friends, Kevin and two other guys, Alaska

In their room, Miles asks the Colonel about Alaska. The Colonel asks Miles to stop talking about Alaska, pointing out that there are many other girls at school who are less crazy than Alaska and don't have boyfriends.

In the mornin...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of PrimeStudyGuides.com, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in