Despite the heroic name, suitable for the novel of Jack London, this is the coming of age story about the group of school friends, their feelings and ways to cope with sudden tragedy that hits them.
The main hero of the story is Miles Halter. He is plump, shy and unpopular, often he is a laughingstock of his class, so when he moves to the new school he is worried and excited at the same time. Miles is not very social, but he is lucky this time. His roommate Chip Martin, nicknamed The Colonel for obvious reasons - his bossy attitude combined with genuine care for those he considers friends, takes him under his wing, introducing to the ragtag bunch of misfits he calls his friends. They were expelled from the popular school companies and now keep together enjoying the company of each other. He also gives Miles the nickname Pudge, for also obvious reasons, but, together with Chip’s attitude, it doesn’t sound offensive.
The “squad” of The Colonel consists of Takumi Nikohito, a Japanese boy who is a gifted rap singer but is considered odd by the rest of the school, Alaska Young, a pretty but troubled and mysterious girl who seems to have serious family issues and Lara Buterskaya, a Romanian girl also shunned from the popular girls’ company. Chip himself is from the poor family and lives in a trailer, but he is a self-made young man and taught the offenders to treat him with respect, using his fists if needed.
The company enjoys illegal smoking, mischief-making, pranks and alcohol. The only man they are really afraid of is their dean nicknamed Eagle for his ability to see everything. They have to plan their actions with caution to avoid being caught in the middle of the prank or with cigarettes on their favourite meeting place, the Smoking Hole. But Pudge loves studying also, especially the World Religions class, taught to them by an old teacher Dr. Hyde, nicknamed The Old Man (it’s a school story so beware of dozens of nicknames ahead!). Pudge seems to be the only one who likes the classes, Alaska openly despises them. To Pudge’s great disappointment, his daydreaming and inability to concentrate irritate the Old Man too much and finally he gets expelled from the class.
But the Colonel’s group has its enemies - the Weekday Warriors, the students who are taken home at weekends. They see a newcomer and decide that he will make an easy prey for them. The Weekday Warriors pull a cruel and possibly even lethal joke to Pudge: one night he is abducted, wrapped in tape tightly as a mummy and thrown into the river. His survival is indeed a miracle. When Pudge returns and tells the Colonel what happened, Chip promises that they will have their revenge at Weekday Warriors inventing equally cruel pranks for them.
In the meanwhile, the relationships within the group develop further. Pudge falls for Lara and Chip decides to aid him, organizing a triple date, where Pudge can invite Lara, Colonel himself is present with his (fake) girlfriend Sara and Alaska takes her boyfriend too. It is the starting point for Pudge’s and Lara’s romantic relationship and he is very grateful for such a cool help.
On Thanksgiving the kids are brought home, except Pudge and Alaska. Though Alaska can be trusted completely (last year she was the one who rattled the whole company to dean for some reasons), she is still the member of the team and Colonel asks Pudge to take care of her. Pudge agrees and they spend some wonderful time together, smoking, drinking, watching porn and (just to pretend to be nice kids) visiting Chip and his mother for Thanksgiving dinner. Now Pudge isn’t sure at all who he likes most: composed but quite ordinary Lara or eccentric, bright and beautiful Alaska. He has erotic thoughts about Alaska but is still worried by her troublesome behaviour.
After the Christmas holidays the company finally prepares a prank - a first one in the epic series they want to unleash on Weekday Warriors. Firstly, Pudge and Takumi assemble fireworks near the Eagle’s house and start them all at once to lure the frightened dean out of his house, and in the meantime Alaska (dyeing her hair blue for disguise) puts fake progress reports about it to the houses of Weekday Warriors, thus framing them. The prank is absolutely successful, the victorious company gathers in the campus and celebrate their first round won against the Weekday Warriors.
Pudge breaks up with Lara (she isn’t very offended though) and finally tells Alaska that he lusts for her. To his surprise, Alaska agrees and they go to her place. But before something serious happens, Alaska gets a phone call. It is her boyfriend, who reminds her that today they have an anniversary. Alaska has a drama episode and storms off the room. She begs Colonel to distract Eagle once more to let her drive away from campus because she just have to. Puzzled Colonel agrees and he and Pudge set off another set of fireworks. Alaska disappears.
Next morning the dean announced that Alaska died in a car accident. The company is utterly devastated by this news. Pudge and Colonel, feeling partly responsible for it, detach themselves from Lara and Takumi and start their own investigation. They go as far as talking to the policeman who deals with this case, steal the results of Alaska’s alcohol probes to figure out how drunk she was while driving and talk to her boyfriend. Pudge strongly believes that Alaska committed suicide.
Pudge and Colonel finally share the information they found with Takumi and Lara, apologize for being so distant and finally reconcile. But the thoughts about Alaska’s death still haunt them all. Finally they find out that the day before Alaska’s death it was an anniversary of another death - Alaska’s mother’s, who died literally in the arms of eight-year-old girl. It really explained a lot about Alaska’s unstable personality… Remembering about that and feeling extremely guilty, Alaska drove to the cemetery trying to get to the grave of her mother before midnight. But it is still unclear: was her death an accident or a suicide?
The company decides to honor the memory of Alaska with the final prank that should outrank all the pranks ever happened in the campus. They think about it a lot and invent the perfect one to orchestrate in memory of Alaska - a feminist and a provocative jokes lover. This prank involves a hired stripper and a little lie from the side of Pudge’s father (surprisingly he agrees, after hearing the whole story and the real noble purpose of the prank).
At the Speaker Day the school hosts a new speaker - a young professor of Adolescent Sexuality subject. She gives a brilliant speech but a random girl from the audience (Lara of course) starts taunting her, and, in response, the “professor” takes her clothes off and performs a stripper dance. Eagle isn’t shocked. He knew that Pudge, Colonel and other friends are planning that prank but didn’t interfere, deciding that it’s a good way to honor Alaska’s memory.
Gradually, all the company overcomes their grief and confusion. Pudge, as the last one who saw Alaska alive just before they should have had sex, copes worse than others. But at the time of the final World Religions exam (Pudge is allowed to attend the class again) the graduation essay topic is “Labyrinth of Suffering”. Finally Pudge is able to sort their thoughts out and write them off, thus relieving himself from the burden of guilt and grief. He knows that he will never forget Alaska and will always wonder what her really personality was and would they get along together as a couple - but he finds a peace of mind and moves on.