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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Looking for Alaska* by John Green- young adult book review
Also by John Green:

Paper Towns
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
Grades 10+ 256 pages Puffin December 2006 Paperback    

This short but powerful coming-of-age novel follows Miles Halter, a high schooler who decides to go to an Alabaman boarding school for his junior and senior years. Miles has never had that spark that causes popularity, but he does have one personality quirk: he likes to memorize the last words of famous people. His roommate, Chip (aka the Colonel), has charisma, even if his scholarship kid status keeps him in the outsider group. Thanks to Chip, Miles soon finds himself in the rebellious group, where the kids smoke cigarettes, drink sometimes, and even experiment with sex a bit.

Alaska is the queen of the group: she definitely has the spark that draws people to her, and she is quirky almost beyond belief - and apparently Miles' dream girl, since this is his first impression of her:

"And now is as good a time as any to say that she was beautiful. In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the ciagrette washed her face in pale red light. But even in the dark, I could see her eyes-fierce emeralds. She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to support her every endeavor. And not just beautiful, but hot, too, with her breasts straining against her tight tank top, her curved legs swinging back and forth beneath the swing, flip-flops dangling from her electric-blue painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked about the labyrinth and when she answered me, that I realized the importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls' bodies ease from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from calf to hip to waist to breast to neck to ski-slope nose to forehead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I'd noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended their significance."
Alaska is one of those magical, bewitching characters, and at least through Miles' portrayal (the book is all in first-person), the reader falls in love with her as well. Not only is she rebellious; she's also smart. She loves to read, which is obvious from Miles' thoughts when he sees her room:
"Her library filled her bookshelves and then overflowed into waist-high stacks of books everywhere, piled haphazardly against the walls. If just one of them oved, I thought, the domino effect could engulf the three of us in an asphyxiating mass of literature."
Of course, like all magical characters, Alaska is also very messed up. She's moody and doesn't like to talk about her past or her family, and she's a little too fond of alcohol. Along with Takumi and Lisa, they form Miles' 'family' at school.

The plot is more of a journey: Miles is obviously going to grow up, but the reader isn't sure precisely how it's going to happen. The first part of the book is spent in typical high school/college experiences; Miles goes to class and studies and sneaks off campus and sometimes has a bad day. From the beginning, though, the reader knows that all this is leading up to something. How? Well, because part one is called "before," and each chapter begins with a title like "one hundred thirty-six days before," or "eighty-nine days before." This effectively creates a sense of foreboding, while Miles can remain completely oblivious. This takes up about two-thirds of the books; the last third, called "after," concerns how Miles and his friends react to what happens. Green is masterful in his plotting, so to discuss anything more would be to ruin the reading experience.

Speaking of mastery, Green's entire writing style is magnificent. He manages to capture the voice of a sixteen-year-old boy but remain lyrical, which is quite the feat to pull off. Everything about this book is perfect. It deals with what really makes us human: the problems, the triumphs, the decisions. While it's marketed towards teens (and indeed, won the Printz, a YA award), it is just as satisfying for an adult audience. It's the kind of book that, when you finish, you want to start all over again, and it's highly recommended to everyone.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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