In the spring of 2010, my young adult literature professor suggested a number of books to us that I'm just now getting around to reading (this class was where I first heard about The Hunger Games). Among that list was John Green's boarding school novel Looking for Alaska. I had a hard time picturing my public school students being able to relate to kids with the means to go to school away from home (there were a lot of questions when I showed eleventh grade Dead Poets' Society).
Looking for Alaska, however, focuses mostly on students who have earned scholarships to a prestigious, fictitious boarding school in Alabama. The protagonist and his roommate explore the death of their close female friend Alaska. In doing so, they hit upon a lot of your basic YAL fare: identity, understanding money and class, love, sex, drugs, a little rock 'n' roll.
What makes Green's novel stand out (and it's starting to hit some bestseller lists seven years after publication) is his absolute honesty. With a lot of YAL novels, I sometimes think that authors have forgotten how teenagers talk to each other. Green hasn't, but that means there are copious curse words and sex. While I think that most teens would really enjoy Alaska, I can only recommend it as a free choice novel made available to students or incorporated as a lit circle book if you have a very supportive administration who understands this philosophy of young adult lit.
My next two summer reading list book reviews will be surprises not from the reading list. Get excited, fellow reading nerds!