If there's one time of life when things come into focus your self-image, your relationships, your beliefs, your fears, your triumphs, your loves in short, everything that is you, it has to be your high-school years. It is for many the crucible of our personalities, where the "me" of existence is forged for all time. In his first novel, Looking for Alaska, John Green captures that feeling with freshness, candor and heart. Miles Halter is a rising junior in a boarding school in rural Alabama. The Florida teen is used to the sun, but not the stifling, sticky heat of the Deep South. He's also not used to being one of the gang, but at Culver Creek this shy, gangly boy is accepted for what he is, albeit after being wrapped in duct tape and thrown into a lake. Like any school, there are cliques, the biggest two being the rich locals who go home for the weekend and the kids who are there 24/7. The latter group adopts Miles, and within that group his particular circle of friends is certainly unique: there's The Colonel, his brilliant but slightly insane roommate; Takumi, the Japanese kid with the Southern accent; and Alaska Young, "the hottest girl in all of human history." Apart from a demanding academic load, their main amusements consist of smoking, drinking and the Culver Creek tradition of playing pranks on the other group all while avoiding the searing gaze of The Eagle, the school's headmaster.

The experiences come fast and furious to Miles, but the center of his universe is definitely Alaska. Alternatively flirty and distant, friendly and angry, unattainable (with a boyfriend in college) and available, and fiercely intelligent, the force of her personality leads Miles and his friends into a labyrinth of emotions that, after a shattering tragedy, leave him wondering if there's any way out.

Green has written an inventive novel, one that will help young readers assess their place in the world and how they deal with one another. Looking for Alaska is funny, sad, inspiring and always compelling.

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