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By John Green

Reviewed by Stacey Avnes
15, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies   

Looking for Alaska is more than just a teen angst novel, it’s a gripping story of life, death, love, taking risks and friendship. This book is the most perfect composition of high school events ever written.

Loner Miles Halter (Pudge) decides to leave Florida to go to boarding school in Alabama because he doesn’t have friends. He wants to make friends at his new school, but he expects that things will be the same as they were before—he will be unnoticed. Instead, he meets unruly Chip, Japanese rapper Takumi, shy but lively Romanian Lara, and sexy, outgoing Alaska, and his life changes forever.

Pudge has a crush on Alaska and is having the time of his life, until Alaska mysteriously dies. The friends are angry, sad, vengeful and confused. They don’t know what to do, and they work together to find out what happened, which brings them closer. Each time they find clues to her death, they find out things about Alaska they never expected.

I didn’t want to put the book down because the writing felt as if a real teen was telling the story. Like when Alaska says, “It’s the eternal struggle, Pudge: the good versus the naughty. Sometimes you lose a battle, but mischief always wins the war.” That is like the teen motto. I know that I do whatever I can to get out of certain situations, even if it means being a little mischievous.

Before reading this book, I read mostly classics. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters had become my favorite authors. The lifestyles depicted in those stories are a lot more restrictive and conservative than in Looking for Alaska. This book brings teenage antics to a whole new level, like when they light firecrackers up a hill to get the attention of the dean of the school while freaking him out at the same time. It is still tasteful while being hilarious.

There were times in the book when I felt I was with the characters, feeling what they were feeling and experiencing what they were experiencing. A lot of the things that happen in high school are in this book, even the events that people want to forget. A lot of us know the feeling of liking someone you cannot have, like when Pudge first realizes that he likes Alaska and she claims that she is in love with her current boyfriend. To me, those parts of the story make it more relatable to real-life high school.

This book has taught me not to take things for granted—especially friends. To see in this book by John Green how something can be taken away so quickly, I now know to start taking things like arguments with friends less seriously because for all I know, they could be gone tomorrow.

By Stephen King

Reviewed by Esteban Garcia
16, Warren HS (Downey)

I’d heard great things about Stephen King. I’d seen The Shining, the film adaptation of King’s novel, and loved it, so when I saw some of his novels on the list of books we could read for English, I chose Carrie. It proved to be an incredibly thrilling read.

Carrie is the story of a teenage girl suffering from the crushing humiliations of being an outcast in a small-town high school and her mother’s biting Christian fundamentalism. Early on, her peers in the locker room torment Carrie after she gets her first period and is bleeding in the showers. Later, we see her mom’s severity when she forces Carrie to pray for hours to repent for her sins (like visiting a bikini-clad neighbor and accepting a boy’s invitation to the prom).

As the plot unfolds King slowly introduces Carrie’s telekinetic powers—the ability to move inanimate objects with only the power of her mind. After she is humiliated at prom, Carrie goes on a rampage, destroying much of her town and its inhabitants with her telekinesis. I appreciated, though, that Carrie’s powers weren’t the focus of the story; Carrie is primarily about high school life.

Before reading Carrie, I didn’t think a book could capture suspense the way a film can but this novel proved me wrong. King’s descriptive style brings alive the pain of the main character. Parenthetical phrases give the readers constant insight into the thoughts and emotions of the characters. When the words, “(dead are they all dead carrie why think carrie)” splash across the page, it felt like those thoughts were my own. These made reading the novel all the more enjoyable and only once seemed pointless.

While something like buying a root beer for a dime may be dated (Carrie was published in 1974), the overall theme and feel of the book still connected with me. Carrie is a view into the life of the other side of high school. For misfits, the story could possibly be a refreshing and honest view of their own situations. The scenes of Carrie’s amazing revenge convey a sense of personal victory—the intensity of the emotions forces the reader to feel it all, and I did.
Before reading Carrie, I wasn’t sure what to expect of a horror book, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I slipped a few pages in during morning announcements, before bed, during lunch, and between classes and I finished it within one week.