John Green’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska, was finally adapted this year by Hulu into an 8-episode mini series. I used this as an opportunity to read the book for the first time and then watch the show . . . which I found to be a very well-done and faithful adaptation. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any changes though, so let’s dive into the differences between the book and show.
One difference right at the beginning is Alaska turning in her roommate Marya. In the book, this happens off-page during the end of the previous school year. In the show, we actually see Alaska get caught by The Eagle, use this knowledge to save herself from expulsion, and then see The Eagle bust Marya and Paul in the act on the first day. It’s hinted at in the book that it was her but that information doesn’t spread to the rest of the school. The show spreads this like wildfire and the school completely shuns Alaska by calling her the “rat.” Even Pudge, Takumi, and The Colonel ignore her. This really plays into her being an outcast—adding on another reason of why she might have wanted to die.
Another major difference between the book and show is the involvement of the adults. In the book, they’re there but we don’t dive into any backgrounds. In the show, The Eagle, Dr. Hyde, and Dolores especially get more air time and memorable storylines. We see that The Eagle has dedicated so much of himself to his job that his wife left him. He’s lonely and throws himself even more int the job. He does end up getting a love interest in the way of the French teacher, who helps lighten him up. Dr. Hyde is also given a much more impressive backstory and becomes a confidant for Alaska, Pudge, and The Colonel. We get to see more of The Colonel’s mom, Dolores, as well, which I loved! She was definitely a highlight, and I loved seeing the role she plays in The Colonel’s life. Involving the adults more was an excellent decision and absolutely added to the story.
The pranks that Alaska, Pudge, Takumi, and The Colonel play escalate in the show. There are way more as the Weekend Warriors retaliate back and forth with them. The Colonel’s girlfriend, Sara, attends a debutante ball in one episode and Alaska, Pudge, and Takumi pull a major prank on the Weekend Warriors there. The outcome of this prank feeds into the biggest prank of all that goes down the night of the school dance. This prank leads to The Colonel being expelled, which also deviates from the book. Due to Alaska’s death, he isn’t actually expelled, but it does become a focal storyline the day she dies. The final prank pulled in honor of Alaska is slightly different. In the book the boys hired a real stripper, in the show they use the gas station clerk. The entire junior class becomes more involved as the girls stand up with Lara to yell and the guys strip during the music too.
Lastly, let’s discuss some of the more minor differences between the book and show. Alaska and Pudge go over to Dr. Hyde’s home before The Colonel picks them up on Thanksgiving. Alaska actually breaks up with Jake, which she didn’t do in the book. Pudge and Lara also fight and break up before Alaska’s death. The book hints that Takumi and Lara like each other, but in the show it’s very clear they’re a couple. Alaska (and her mother) die on December 12 in the show, so earlier than in the book. After the funeral, The Colonel blames and yells at Alaska’s dad and Dolores has to pull her son back. In the book, Takumi confesses to seeing Alaska the night of and knowing she had forgotten the anniversary of her mother’s death—this doesn’t happen in the show and Pudge and the Colonel just figure it out through Jake and Google.
Overall, I found the differences between the Looking Alaska book and movie to be pretty minimal. The changes made truly made the story stronger. As a side note, Denny Love’s portrayal of The Colonel was by far one of my favorite parts of the show. If you haven’t checked the series out yet, I highly recommend it as it is very well-done and faithful to the book.