I fondly remember the day that my friend bestowed her copy of Looking for Alaska upon me. How could I not? I was struggling to put the book down—to the extent of being reprimanded in science class. It was my gateway book into the world of YA fiction, where the unattainable dream girls and exhausted tropes exist and thrive, and I was starting my venture into the genre off strong.
I was a freshly-minted teen, innocent and impressionable, and had not yet ventured into the world of angsty writing. What I found inside those two hundred and twenty-three pages was quite crushing for a thirteen-year-old, yet I was absolutely enthralled by the drama of it all. What was truly crushing, though, was finding out there was no film adaptation after finishing the book.
Many years and angsty novels later, when I heard Green’s debut novel was being eyed for yet another attempt at a film adaptation, I simply rolled my eyes. Hulu is not the first to take a shot at this novel, preceded by a spanning history of failed attempts. The novel also remained in the shadows of his later novels, often forgotten in the midst of all the Fault in our Stars buzz. But more than a decade later, the adaptation finally found its footing.
The six-part mini-series tells the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, a fresh-faced, famous-last-words-obsessed teen who transfers to Culver Creek boarding school for his senior year of high school. On top of the stress that naturally follows transferring, Pudge must learn the ins and outs of the school’s hierarchal food chain and survive the tension harbored between the scholarship kids and affluent Weekday Warriors.
Upon his arrival, he immediately clicks with his witty, furious and notably short roommate, Chip—”the Colonel”—along with his all-knowing, ninja-like friend, Takumi. His friend circle, founded on mutual trust and rebellion, expands quickly, especially after he endures his first prank (turned near-death experience) at the hands of the Weekday Warriors.
He gains the sympathy and acceptance of the scholarship kids, most notably Alaska Young. While she exhibits the characteristics of one, Alaska is not your average manic pixie dream girl. Her dialogue is drenched in literature references and female empowerment, and her traumatic backstory humanizes her. She is just as real as the rest of the characters, but that is much more difficult to understand in Green’s writing.
The series gives a new element of life to the characters, especially Alaska. I had initially dreaded an adaptation due to the original characterizations in the book, but I was pleasantly surprised to see such depth brought to Green’s original lineup. Alaska’s voice was much stronger in the show, with her constant harping on modern (yet slightly white) feminist values, and her deep conversations with both Pudge and her (shockingly lovable) philosophy teacher, Dr. Hyde.
The main characters aren’t the only ones who gain a new element in the show — side characters such as Dr. Hyde and the school administrator, “the Eagle” do too. Their plotlines are extended in the series, both given an emotional backstory and hope for the future. Dr. Hyde, who was nothing more than just a thought-provoking extra in the book, became a shaping character in both Pudge and Alaska’s lives after opening up about losing the love of his life to AIDS. The Eagle, who was an empty, stern character in the book, now struggles with his failed marriage and his need for validation in his job. He strives to find love again while struggling with his work-fixated tendencies.
Whether it was the acting or general tailoring of the story, the show conveyed the characters and their emotions on a deeper level than Green’s original work. What felt empty in writing was overflowing with soul on-screen.
And when I originally imagined an adaptation, I assumed there would be polished representations of the South and teenage grit. What the adaptation portrayed was not only accurate but relatable. The run-down restaurants and scraggly forests were recognizable, along with the vast stretches of fields and bleak highways. They were miserable and ordinary, but they captured the setting perfectly—no glamor added.
Though the actors were not pimpled-faced teens by any standards, it did not feel like Riverdale, where one must watch thirty-year-olds pretend to learn Algebra. The actors were youthful and bordering on perfect—Kristine Froseth fitting Alaska’s unrefined yet striking beauty, Charlie Plummer portraying Pudge as awkward and gangly, the Colonel’s height highlighted perfectly with Denny Love playing the fiery role. The setting and characters remained faithful and did justice to Green’s raw and, at times, bleak descriptions.
Quite possibly the biggest fear when it comes to adaptations is the fear of inaccuracy and straying too far from the source content. Though John Green is often berated for his dramatic stories and overused tropes, Looking for Alaska is his most emotionally moving book. The story has been noted as one of the shaping novels of its genre and has made teens around the globe ugly-cry (myself included, embarrassingly enough).
I was afraid that it would be off—that the adaptation would lose the magical teen angst or completely lose the story altogether. But fortunately, Hulu’s adaptation proved me wrong. Everything, from the “I smoke to die” quote to the “Burrfrido” antic, was spot-on. I never felt lost or disappointed in the plot, even when it strayed at times, such as the Debutant prank or the expulsion storyline. They were wonderful additions and fit snugly into the original story. The adaptation not only stayed true to the source novel but elaborated even further, exceeding my long-time expectations and crushing my fears.
Looking for Alaska is now available for streaming on Hulu.
Featured Image via IMBD