Looking for Alaska’ does the young adult novel justice

The Hulu show defies the age-old concept that ‘books are better than their screen adaptations’


(Courtesy of the “Looking for Alaska” Official Facebook Page)

By Joanna Buoniconti, Collegian Correspondent

The long-awaited adaptation of the critically acclaimed young adult novel, “Looking for Alaska,” was released as a Hulu mini-series on Oct. 18. All eight episodes within the series were released on the show’s premiere date and follow the close-knit friendship of four jaded misfits each in search of a “greater perhaps.” The friends navigate the terrain of a private high school, Culver Creek, which resembles that of a summer camp in Birmingham, Alabama and their lives are forever altered and intertwined when an unforeseeable tragedy occurs.

Everyone who has read a novel and fell in love with its poignant cadence then saw the film or TV adaptation has reiterated the phrase, “the book was better than the movie.” I kept that phrase in mind when I began the first episode because I was skeptical that it would never be able to hold a flame to the book that made so many teenagers grappling with depression feel less alone. “Looking for Alaska” was the first book of John Green’s that I ever read and it holds a great deal of sentimental value for me along with much of Green’s literary fanbase. For those who are avid fans of the book, they will be glad to hear that the mini-series is as captivating and heart-wrenching as its namesake.

The casting for the show truly stands out as one of the show’s strongest tributes to the novel. Charlie Plummer plays the main character, Miles Halter, who is ironically nicknamed “Pudge” for his lean, lanky stature. Plummer embodies the role of Pudge perfectly, not just because of his similar physique but also due to his extraordinary acting skills. As viewers, the audience witnesses the range of palpable and all too relatable emotions that Pudge experiences during his friendship and budding romance, to the gut-wrenching events around the mysterious Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth). Alaska is the ideal mirror of the slightly hippie-dressing, prank mastermind and emotionally fluctuating young woman who can go from bubbly to melancholy in a matter of seconds. And arguably the most important character is the feisty but tiny Chip “The Colonel” Martin (Denny Love) because of his intellect and the fact that he doesn’t back down from establishing his place on Culver Creek’s campus, in which he faces continual excluded for being the only Black student. The last member to the infamous rag-tag team is Takumi (Jay Lee), seemingly the only other student of color beside “The Colonel.”

John Green has since stated since the show’s release that he served an influential role in the casting process, which is evident given that the actors’ could not be more ideal embodiments of the characters than if they were plucked from the novel’s pages.

The show follows the chronology and complexities of the book precisely. It begins with Plummer leaving his uneventful and sheltered life in Orlando, Florida in search of adventure and a sense of belonging. While packing the viewers are shown his collection of biographies that the audience later comes to learn that he memorizes people’s last words and can recite them at the drop off a hat. Upon first meeting Alaska, “Pudge” becomes enamored with her mysteries and deep intellect. Due to the Colonel and Takumi’s chagrin on the subject, Pudge tries rather unsuccessfully to avert his feelings for her until his feelings for her reach a breaking point.

Green did a commendable job intertwining relatable aspects, such as teen romance fueled by lust, while heightening the stakes when he wrote the novel and the show largely dramatizes on those aspects. Similar to many other high schools, being labelled as a “rat” or tattletale at Culver Creek is a fate worse than death. Alaska broke this cardinal rule for the sake of saving her scholarship and future, after she was caught burying bottles of cheap wine in the woods surrounding the school by the principal.

Terrified at the prospect of having to return home to her estranged father, she gives the principal some intel to her roommate’s illicit behavior. When the entire school learns of her behavior, she is ostracized from her friend group. Alaska appears to be dealing with drastic mood swings for the entirety of the series, but she becomes more evidently unraveled throughout the show’s progression.

The ending of the show remains open for fan’s interpretation, which is a true nod to the novel’s ending which concludes just as ambiguously.

All eight episodes of the mini-series can be found on Hulu.

Joanna Buoniconti can be reached at [email protected]