Looking for Alaska Review: Understanding the Modern Teenager

Vivian Nguyen ‘25 / Emtertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Hunger Games trilogy or the Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson? The Harry Potter series or the Harry Potter movies with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson? Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books or Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Bella? The question of whether books should be adapted into on-screen adaptations has been a longtime request from audiences and authors alike, including none other than John Green himself. 

“Looking for Alaska,” a miniseries released in late 2019, follows an abundance of John Green books turned into film projects, such as Paper Towns and his extremely popular The Fault in Our Stars. Originally intended to be a film, the project laid in limbo from 2005 to 2018, more than a decade before a miniseries was ordered with a young ensemble cast. It turned out to be an extremely wise and beneficial decision. 

Spoilers ahead.

Set in 2005, “Looking for Alaska” starts off with Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer) being sent off by his parents to a boarding school in Alabama called Culver Creek Academy. Originally a basically friendless loner from Florida, as seen by his going away party where none of his classmates attended, Culver Creek is a chance for him to start over. On the way to the boarding school, viewers get their first glimpse of Alaska Young as she stands in a gas station, wistfully looking around before making eye contact with Miles. Alaska is notably played by Kristine Forseth, who does a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the angsty troubled teenage girl in the early 2000s. 

Almost immediately, Miles is introduced to his roommate Chip Martin (Denny Love), who goes by the nickname Colonel. While all this is happening, Alaska’s roommate Marya and her boyfriend Paul are expelled from Culver Creek due to the fact that they were having sex and getting drunk, two rules that are strictly forbidden by the school’s headmaster, nicknamed the Eagle by the students. Through the Colonel, Miles also meets Takumi (Jay Lee), the calmest of the four friends, as well as formally meeting Alaska. Their first encounter revolves around Alaska retelling a story to Miles and the Colonel about a college student she had been hanging out with who tried to put the moves on her, and how he put his hand on her boob and “honked it,” before demonstrating the exact scenario by putting Miles’ hand on her breast. Predictably, Miles is immediately captivated by the mysterious Alaska, who has a college boyfriend. He is further enchanted when she asks him the question, how will I ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? 

Through his friendship with the Colonel, Miles is also introduced to the Weekday Warriors: wealthy students who are able to go home for the weekend, including Longwell Chase, a star lacrosse player and resident mean jock; his right hand man Kevin, another lacrosse player albeit not as bright; and Sara, the Colonel’s girlfriend who he has an extremely hostile on-and-off relationship with. The Weekday Warriors play the antagonistic role of the series, as they were friends with Paul, Marya’s boyfriend who got expelled with her, and believe that the Colonel ratted on them. It’s mentioned throughout the series that ratting on other students to the administration is considered the biggest mistake someone can make, and it’s clearly evident in the first few episodes when everyone thinks the Colonel ratted and he becomes a target to pick on. Due to his association with the Colonel, Miles is subjected to Longwell and Kevin’s harassment, including being taped and dumped into the local lake nearby, where he almost drowns and is then almost attacked by the ferocious swan that resides in the body of water. His newfound friends see this as an act of war and start a prank war with the Weekday Warriors, which include putting hair dye into their shampoo after a lacrosse practice and sabotaging a debutante ball where their protein shakes are mixed with inedible items in order to make their bowels upset. Takumi, the Colonel, Alaska, and Miles, who has been affectionately dubbed Pudge due to the irony that he’s skinny, tape the toilets at the country club so that they are unable to properly conduct their business and create a mess. 

All while this is happening, Miles meets a Romanian girl named Lara, a fellow student at Culver Creek. Lara very obviously has a crush on him and through his friends’ encouragement, Miles begins to date her. The two are very sweet and indulgent in PDA, entertaining the Colonel and Takumi, and annoying Alaska. Alaska, who breaks up with her boyfriend Jake early in the series, cannot decipher exactly why she feels this way about Miles, although it’s obvious to viewers. As the series goes on, she slowly starts to lash out at her friends, and the main drama truly happens when the Colonel and Alaska get into a fight after a basketball game against Paul and Marya’s new school, where they call out Alaska for being the rat in front of the whole school. Besides the whole school turning on her, the Colonel also accuses Alaska of letting him take the fall for her and decides to stop being friends with her, thus cementing her place as the outcast at Culver Creek. 

However, Miles wishes to continue being friends with her, even if he doesn’t understand why. The bond between the two is undeniable when Miles decides to stay at Culver Creek for Thanksgiving with Alaska, who doesn’t wish to go home due to a bad family life. Besides bonding with their elderly teacher Dr. Hyde, who discusses how he fell in love with a man who died young during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, and having a profound discussion on love and life, they also end up falling asleep together in an extremely tender and intimate moment. The two are then invited to Thanksgiving dinner with the Colonel’s mom, who really wins best parent in the series by telling the Colonel to basically get over himself and focus on Alaska, who is clearly hurting and lost. Regardless of whatever bonds may have been repaired during that night, the Colonel still decides he doesn’t want to be friends with Alaska and gives her the cold shoulder the moment they get back to Culver Creek. 

Everything changes when Alaska’s library of books she plans on reading throughout her life is ruined when the Weekday Warriors flood her room with a hose. The group decides to gather again to pull a prank on the Weekday Warriors, where they send fake college application essays to Duke. Alaska’s vulnerability is revealed during a particularly harrowing moment in the series when the group tells each other what their worst day was, and she explains that she saw her mom have an aneurysm in front of her when she was a child. Her dad blamed her for not being able to call 911 and ever since, Alaska’s been traumatized. At this point, it’s clear that she’s jealous about Lara and Miles’ relationship. Meanwhile, the Colonel expects to be expelled over his role as the perpetrator of the Duke fake admissions prank, and the group decides to send him off by getting extremely drunk. 

Miles and Alaska end up playing a game of Truth or Dare and end up making out that fateful night, allowing Miles to go to bed happy and content, even telling her that he loves her. A few hours later, a hysterical Alaska runs out of the dormitories to drive somewhere. A few hours after that, Alaska Young is dead, having been involved in a fatal car crash by driving into a truck. 

The final two episodes are dedicated to grief and how one learns to live with this loss inside their heart. Alaska’s death makes a profound impact on every single character on the show, and the viewer gets a glimpse of just how much everyone truly loved her. Even the Eagle is seen crying over her tragic loss, and it really shows how much he does care about his students. Of course, the series focuses on Miles, the Colonel, and Takumi’s reactions the most. The Colonel even goes so far as to tell Alaska’s dad that it’s his fault Alaska is dead at her funeral. The three of them are obsessed with the idea of what drove Alaska to be so upset that night because they were trying to find someone to blame, blaming everyone from Miles to Takumi to Alaska’s ex-boyfriend Jake. The group then finds Alaska’s favorite book with the written comment straight and fast in response to the question How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?, causing them to suspect that she committed suicide. Believing that she drove into the truck that night on purpose, the friends don’t ever find out if it was a suicide or not. They learn from a police officer and their own personal research that the night she died was the anniversary of her mom’s death and that she had forgotten to visit her mom’s grave, and thus, begin to accept her death and start to heal together. 

The series ends with the entire Culver Creek Academy junior class pranking their whole school by getting the male cashier at the local gas station to strip and do a lap dance on the teachers. Miles decides to forgive Alaska for what he perceives as her leaving him alone, and knows he will never forget her. The group of friends steal the memorial bench dedicated to her and place it in the smoking hole where they all smoked, as a way of remembering her as she would’ve wanted. 

Overall, the decision to adapt the book as a miniseries is a gamble that viewers will find paid off. It allowed so much more material to be explored and gives viewers an in-depth look at various characters that didn’t receive as much attention in the book. Additionally, the director and producers did a really good job of staying faithful to the source material as well as adding in their own creative twists and additions to the show. It probably helps that John Green was fully involved in every process of the making of Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska is a wonderfully heartfelt show that truly captures the essence of teenage innocence and rebelliousness, that sense of childlike wondering and being stuck between wanting to grow up and wanting to stay young forever. There’s this feeling of invincibility that the story so beautifully understands. The characters are all so well developed and nuanced, and even though all flawed, viewers cannot help but sympathize and understand every decision each individual makes. 

The miniseries really shows what it’s like to be a teenager in the modern times, and really expresses the teenage desire to be free and unrestrained very well. Experiencing life as it comes and spending their happiest moments with their friends, dealing with hard teachers who only want the best for them, and loving their parents but still being exasperated with their clinginess at times—it’s all so quintessentially part of the teenage experience, and Looking for Alaska really, genuinely, wonderfully captures every single moment.

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