Looking for Alaska
Dutton Books, 2005.
Looking for Alaska is John Green's first novel, a young adult coming-of-age story, although not for very young adults; it has a tendency to glorify drinking, smoking, sex, and reading. It is very much in the same style as his latter works, although somewhat more dramatic.
It is the story of Miles Halter, a young nerd who enjoys reading and quoting famous (and not-so-famous) last words. And not really a lot else. Approaching his Junior year of high school, he finds himself the stereotypical geeky loser,with no friends and no prospects for anything exciting ever happening in his life. His solution to this is to go to a private boarding school for smart kids. He's just that kind of person. But it turns out that this was a good choice, as Culver Creek Preparatory School turns out to have a some new and exciting friends waiting for him. Nerds that sneak off to go smoking and drinking, nerds who get good grades and read a lot, and most particularly, one nerd named Alaska.
Alaska is smart, funny, flirty, self-destructive, and utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, she also has a boyfriend (which doesn't stop her from flirting with everyone else), so this quickly becomes an angsty tale of unrequited love. The story makes up for this, in part, by having an interesting cast of characters who have fairly standard teenage-troublemaker 'adventures'. It also makes up for this with An Exciting Event midway through the book, but I think the book is best enjoyed if you don't know what it is.
Personally, I would recommend reading another of John Green's books before this one; either An Abundance of Katherines or Paper Towns (and perhaps any of the others; I have not yet read either of his most recent novels, so cannot recommend them). If you like them, read Looking for Alaska; it's the same general idea. Green has a habit of unabashedly recycling character archetypes, although the characters are significantly tweaked to make each group interesting.
Upon reading these books I generally get the impression that they are written very specifically for young adults entering their last few years of high school, but apparently a lot of older folks like them, and I have to admit, I do too. While the tribulations of high-school and teen angst themes are a bit stronger than I really like, the characters are fun and the story is engaging.
Looking for Alaska won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award (presented by the American Library Association), and made the ALA 2005 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults list.