Binge Break: Hulu creates a faithful, heart-wrenching adaptation of Looking for Alaska

After 14 years, fans of John Green’s first novel finally see how the story plays out on screen.


Kayli Reese, Managing News Editor

John Green’s first novel Looking for Alaska is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it about four times a year, and I still cry every time as the group of teenagers the story follows search for meaning in their lives and have to face heavy grief. It’s a breathtaking piece of art.

I was utterly terrified to watch such a beloved novel turn into a TV series, which premiered Friday on Hulu. I’ve been let down too many times by book-to-screen adaptations of my favorite stories to feel optimistic about liking this show.

After the first of the eight episodes, however, my fears were put to rest. Looking for Alaska is a faithful, aesthetically-pleasing adaptation that taps into the nostalgia of the time when the book was published 14 years ago. Watching it feels like having the novel read aloud to you as you fall asleep, warm in bed while contemplating all of the big questions that are safer to ask after the sun goes down.

It took a bit of adjusting to come to terms with the fact that the characters don’t look exactly like they have in my head for so many years when they’re portrayed on screen. The actors do such a wonderful job bringing the story to life, though, that the feeling quickly fades away as the viewer get swept up in the story.

The series is fairly faithful to the book, with a few extra scenes thrown in that give things a fresh twist for book fans. The story follows Miles “Pudge” Halter as he starts school at Culver Creek, a boarding school he decides to attend in order to find “a great perhaps.” The events are split into a “before” and “after” countdown centered around a tragedy that strikes Pudge and his group of friends.

One of those friends is known as the Colonel, who has always been my favorite. I smile when he’s introduced in the novel; I squealed when he walked through the door into the series.

While the Colonel is still unapologetically loyal and ready to be kicked out of every basketball game at school, new scenes give him added depth that usually can only be achieved through repeated rereadings of the novel. The audience sees more of his struggle as he juggles judgement from kids who come from a place of privilege with pride in his roots. The show also gives a deeper look into his relationship with his girlfriend Sara, which isn’t given in the book.

That’s probably the show’s strongest point: the ability to show the audience pieces of the story from points of view other than Pudge’s perspective. Pudge tends to see things through rose-tinted glasses, as this is the first time he’s found a group of friends and a place to belong.

This is especially true when it comes to the enigma that is Alaska, who grabs Pudge’s hand and takes him on a journey of mischief, love, and heartbreak. The series takes away some of the manic-pixie-dream-girl aspects of Alaska, rounding her out into a complex character with real fears and pain.

Of course, most of this happens in the “before” section of the narrative. The last two episodes focus on the after, and my goodness, it’s just as painful to watch as it is to read. I felt the floor come out from under me at the beginning of episode seven, and I even knew what was coming.

The actors’ performances in that scene alone are reason enough to watch Looking for Alaska, but it’s the questions the characters face afterwards that will stick with a person for years to come.

Also, Ron Cephas Jones, who plays Dr. Hyde, should be held with the same reverence as Tom Hanks or Morgan Freeman and that’s that.