Miles was a nobody, with no friends and no life and nothing except a passion for famous last words. And then, searching for a "Great Perhaps" (last words, Rabelais) he moves to boarding school in Birmingham. His roomate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius who lives for pranks. Chip nicknames him Pudge and introduces him to Alaska. Alaska is crazy, beautiful, sexy, funny, amazing, self-destructive, a wonderful disaster looking for a place to happen. She teaches Miles/Pudge to drink, smoke, and prank; in just days, he is head over heels in love with her.
But underneath it all Alaska is truly, deeply unhappy. She's a screwed-up person. The book is divided into two parts, with each chapter labled the number of days "before" or "after" the tragedy that changes Miles forever.
Wow. Seriously, that's all I can say. Wow.
Miles' journey is honest and amazing. And although what comes "before" is funny and intense, it's what comes "after" that really makes the book. It's a lot of soul-searching and touchy-feely stuff, which doesn't usually appeal to me, but in this case... it was amazing.
Alaska is of course the enigmatic star of the show. She ricochets wildly from funny, fun, and upbeat to angry, crazy, and depressed. There's just a lot of her, and she's a really excellent character. Chip/the Colonel was equally awesome; a trailer-park genius with a Napoleon complex, creative but totally real. And then Miles, the good kid who'd never smoked or broken a rule; his self-discovery was really amazing to read. And the side characters, too, were fully characterized and real. I don't even know what to write about them, seriously, except that they were really, truly awesome.
I'll just list some adjectives: light, dark, funny, honest, self-deprecating, open, real. And those five stars up there just about sum it up for me.
End Result: five stars. A really excellent book. Read it.