Looking for Alaska (2005) is the first book by John Green, who's become a leading YA author over the past several years. It follows high school junior Miles during his year at a boarding school in a small town in Alabama. He didn't mind leaving his old public school in Florida, where he didn't fit in and had hardly any friends. Almost right away at his new school, he falls in with a group of prank-playing, smoking, drinking (yet studious!) companions: his trailer trash-raised but brilliant roommate, the Colonel; Japanese-born, rap-loving Takumi; and of course, gorgeous, troubled, prank master-minding Alaska.
The plot of this book is tough to describe, not because it's complicated, but because almost anything I say about it will give away the book's crucial twist. Suffice it to say, Alaska has a dark history she doesn't share with her friends, and a drunken night mixes with that history like gasoline with oxygen. Add in the match of a prank gone awry, and there is a plot explosion. More than that I will not say.
The book really resonated with me. Not too surprising, it resonates with most who read it.* I felt like I had a special connection, however, because it reminded me a lot of my own prank-playing, drunken (yet studious!) college days in a small town in the south, where like Miles and his friends, we had to make our own entertainment. Certain details about the local flora, the nearby interstate (I-65, with which I'm quite familiar), the unbelievably humid weather in late summer, even the futility of the sports teams at a small school, all took me back to my time at Sewanee.
I can heartily recommend this book for almost anybody, as well as another of John Green's books, An Abundance of Catherines. My wife is also quite fond of his latest, The Fault in Our Stars, although I haven't read that one yet.
* An indicator of just how much this book seems to register with people: One of Miles's quirks is that he memorizes the final words of famous people. In the copy of this book I checked out from the library, several people have written their own favorite last words on the final page!