You know, I was hopeful that Looking For Alaska would be an enjoyable read--I liked the cover and the ambiguous jacket blurb. And it was very much what I had hoped. I'm not so sure that I would have enjoyed it as a high school underclassman, but as an upperclassman I think I would have found it very educational.
I very much enjoyed the main character Miles/Pudge, a young man who at the beginning of the book is just starting his first year at boarding school. The nickname is ironic, assigned to him by his new roommate Chip/The Colonel. The Corporal is who introduces Pudge to Alaska, who he immediately becomes infatuated with.
I found Pudge's voice to make for some intense reading. His "thing" is to learn people's last words, so throughout the book, you learn what a number of famous people's last words supposedly were (there are some comments from the author after the books is over regarding the accuracy of these last words). And he and his new set of friends are far less shy about talking about anything than I was at 16.
And the chapters are a countdown (158 days before, forty-eight days before, three days after). I don't know how long it took me to notice that--I was a few chapters in--and then you start to wonder what the countdown is leading you to. (I'm not telling you what--read it yourself.) The only major flaw I found with the book is that there seemed to be a major overlap of time just before the "before" countdown ended; I just couldn't get the timeline to match up with how events "after" were described. It's entirely possible that I missed a key sentence that would eliminate this confusion, but I reread the parts in question several times and can't reconcile them. But even with that said, the timeline is less important than the events of the story, however they happened.
Since this is the end of Banned Books Week, I think it should be noted that this book has been challenged, and not surprisingly so. There are frank sexual situations, drinking, smoking, tons of swearing, flagrant disregard for authority--all the usual stuff that causes parents to get their feathers ruffled.