Four Stars, TV Shows

Looking for Alaska: Hulu’s Adaptation

To make this easy, above the cut off I’ll keep it spoiler-free and below the cut off, beware.

I read Looking for Alaska in 2013. It was my second John Green novel after The Fault in Our Stars and…I didn’t like it. When I heard about Hulu picking it up to make into a mini-series I rolled my eyes. Paper Towns was just as bad as the book in my opinion (another John Green novel I didn’t enjoy) and I expected to feel about the show as I did the book. I did not feel that way at all. I ended up really enjoying it, cried a bunch, and watched the whole thing in 2 nights.

If you’ve read the book or you haven’t, I recommend watching the show. Full thoughts on everything will be below, but looking back on it as a whole: go watch.

Welcome to the spoiler-zone.

To start, I was sixteen when I first read Looking for Alaska. I read it after I loved TFiOS (p.s. loved the movie) and expected to enjoy it equally as much. I will say TFiOS is John Green’s most general-public-friendly book out of all the books I’ve read of his so far. His characters usually tend to lean on the pretentious, philosophical, almost-unrelatable side. Augustus Waters has that in him with his cigarette metaphor he had going on, but he had plenty of typical charm to keep his snob at bay. Paper Towns plain didn’t make any sense. Didn’t in 2014 and didn’t a few months ago when I watched the movie hoping I’d enjoy the storyline more. Still don’t really understand the reason or the takeaway from the book. It felt…blah. An Abundance of Katherines was the one I liked the most (review here) but TFiOS is still number 1. I swore off John Green books after Paper Towns but read An Abundance of Katherines because I owned it and I’m not a quitter. Then I caved when Turtles All the Way Down came out. Still haven’t picked that one up yet. So now that you’re caught up on my relationship with John Green novels and adaptations, a background I find necessary to understand my review of the show, this brings us to present-day.

I fully expected to dislike this show and maybe, probably, DNF it before reaching the end. It’s harder for me to watch shows like I used to and even shows I enjoy, I stop watching before finishing them because life and other things get in the way. Full disclosure, I did almost hate the show up until halfway through it. The characters have their way of talking that most teenagers don’t talk. Especially ones that sit under bridges and smoke and drink at the ripe ages of 17. It was all a little too…unbelievable but then I reminded myself that this was a John Green adaptation so of course these 17-year-olds talk like this. Another disclosure, I don’t remember a single thing about what happened in the book other than the major plot points. So I can’t tell you if it stayed true to the book because over the last 6 years since I read the book…I’ve slept and read a lot since then.

The show starts out with sort of a spoiler but really just foreshadowing and a nod to those who’ve read the book to remind them of what’s coming. For me, it reminded me exactly how Alaska died. I knew she did (it was a piece of the book I never really got over) but couldn’t remember the circumstances or how. Then it backtracks and takes us to Miles P.C.C. (Pre-Culver-Creek).

Miles Pudge Halter is your typical, skinny, unpopular, white boy that we’ve read about a thousand times. And like all John Green characters he’s obsessed with something out of the ordinary. He really likes learning about famous people’s last words before they die (foreshadowing anyone?). He’s quiet and awkward but Chip “Colonel” Martin comes in to save the day and bring him into his friend group of misfits.

This is when it got stilted for me. Literally 20 minutes into the first episode. The actor who played Colonel seemed to slip more into his role as the episodes went on because at first, Colonel was very stiff to me. The way he talked was uptight and it didn’t feel natural. Almost all the characters flowed better by the end of it.

While Augustus Waters merely held a cigarette in his mouth for metaphoric purposes, this group of friends smoked many packs each episode. Do not drink milk and vodka…that’s just nasty. Things started to come together for me and I watched this little unrequited love between Pudge and Alaska start to form. Though unlike when I read it when I was sixteen, I was talking to the TV telling Pudge to move on from Alaska.

This time around, I noticed how truly broken and in need of nurturing or therapy Alaska was. John Green also really enjoys the enigma girl. She’s crazy and impulsive and you never really know what’s going on in her head but you can’t help but fall in love with her. (See: Margo from Paper Towns) I just wanted to give Alaska a hug and tell her everything was going to be okay. For an episode or two I convinced myself Alaska had committed suicide, but then I realized I was mixing in Thirteen Reasons Why and confusing myself on the facts. Alaska was the epitome of your crazy and impulsive MC. She loved pranks and was always saying or doing something crazy.

As I watched, I realized I was watching the relationship dynamics between the characters. It’s a very different way of consuming stories than I did when I read the book for the first time. At sixteen, I liked stories that were clear-cut and you walked away feeling good. Happy endings was what I was on the lookout for and Looking for Alaska wasn’t there to give me a clear-cut story nor a happy ending. I also prioritized stories with a romance in it above most else. If it didn’t have romance then I was immediately less interested. Reading the book, I was focused on Pudge and Alaska getting together. Only on them getting together. I thought I had the whole before/after thing figured out. Of course John Green made sure the night that Alaska and Pudge got together for the first time happened on the same night as the accident to lead the readers (and viewers) to that same conclusion. But this focus for me, lead me to be stunned and also lose interest in the book when I go to the after portion.

With the show I had the advantage of being armed with the knowledge of what was coming, but I don’t look for stories that exclusively have happy endings and have clear-cut stories. A lot of life has happened over the last 6 years. I’ve changed so much as a person which has changed my perspective on this storyline. I feel like I get it. It was never a love story like I thought it would be. It’s about something bigger. Finding friends, the ups and downs of having those friends, unrequited then requited love, navigating the world on your own as a teen, growing into your own. I did cry my way through the last few episodes. When the announcement about Alaska was made at the gym, tears started rolling down my face and they didn’t stop for a while. I also wasn’t as easily moved six years ago so maybe that also has a factor into my emotional investment.

Although I was young when I first read the book, I know I’m still pretty young and have a lot left to learn. However, my perspective on the high school social drama is completely different than it was. A major issue at Culver Creek was being a rat. If you were a rat you were the same as a social outcast. People stopped talking to you, you got pranked, you were no better than a leper. No more than four years removed from high school, I watched all this happen and wonder why these teens make such a big deal out of something so stupid. Yes, everyone hates a snitch. But when your back is against the wall and you don’t have a choice, then things are a little different. Alaska’s breakdown after being outed as a rat about how big of a deal it was made me sit back and think. Are things like this, in the grand scheme of things, a big deal? Hell no, there are much bigger problems. But when you are that age, it is a big deal. It’s hard to have the perspective to know “hey, I’m going to get out of here one day and this won’t even matter. I probably won’t even remember what it was about.” Older adults don’t understand or remember that. These things should be treated like a big deal to help teens feel understood and that their emotions are valid, but then reminded that it won’t matter one day.

All the petty high school drama really bugged me. Especially when Colonel gave Alaska the cold shoulder and then extended it to Pudge because he stayed back with her for Thanksgiving. I mean…c’mon. He didn’t bother to hear her out and no one should spend Thanksgiving alone so don’t be mad at Pudge for staying back with her. I felt that things like that only added fuel to the fire inside Alaska.

Alaska’s death had more mystery surrounding it than I remember. I have my own theories about it, but regardless it was a tragic and horrible way of going. Please, please never drink and drive. Call an uber, call a friend, call your parents. No amount of lecturing the next day will ever be worse than you not coming home. And parents, do not get mad at your kids for calling you for a ride if they’re drunk. Anger in those situations only push kids to drink and drive. And especially don’t drive if you have any amount of alcohol in your system and emotions are running high. Even if you’re under the “legal limit.” Please stay safe on the roads, there is no excuse for drinking and driving. It’s just not worth it.

Now that I’ve binged all the episodes, I wonder if I should revisit the book to see if I fully understand it now. I also wonder if the show just did a better job. I connected with the characters and sympathized with them so much more in the show than I did in the book which also helped. I thought as a whole it was done well even if it had a bit of a rocky start. Check it out on Hulu, it ranks at number 2 in John Green adaptations for me so it’s definitely worth a shot.

4/5 Stars

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