Is Hulu’s ‘Looking For Alaska’ Exactly Like the Book?

Hulu’s Looking for Alaska can’t be “exactly” like the book simply because no book to movie/TV adaptation can. The two media are so different that changes are inevitable, although some adaptations are more extreme than others. 

Sometimes changes are made because it can take quite a while for a book to make it to the screen, and that’s what happened with Hulu’s take on John Green’s novel.

The book is only 14 years old, but especially these days, a lot can happen even in the shortest spans of time. 

What is ‘Looking for Alaska’ about? 

Kristine Froseth and Charlie Plummer on the red carpet
Kristine Froseth and Charlie Plummer | Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

John Green is arguably best known for his teen romance stories The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, starring Shailene Woodley and Cara Delevingne, respectively. However, Looking for Alaska was the author’s debut novel.

Published in 2005, the story is about Miles Halter, a friendless youth who switches from a traditional school to boarding school to seek “The Great Perhaps” — something more, whatever that turns out to be. The Alaska of the title refers to a girl he meets at the school. This being a John Green story, it doesn’t take long before tragedy rears its ugly head. 

Hollywood had tried to adapt the novel before, particularly after The Fault in Our Stars, but more than once, Looking for Alaska fell through as a screen project. Then Hulu came along, and their eight-episode series started running late last month, with Charlie Plummer as Miles and Kristine Froseth as Alaska. 

What changed from the book?

According to Time, there were concerns that the TV version would feel dated and that Alaska would be a “manic pixie dream girl” an endearing but unrealistic character who seems too good to be true. Examples of this are Natalie Portman in Garden State, Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown

Kaisa Bruner of Time explained, “The only way Looking for Alaska could work in this moment is with a broadening of voices and more explicit exploration of themes like sexuality, consent, mental health, race and privilege — and fortunately, that’s what the eight-episode series delivers.”

Many adaptations of novels for the screen get lost in translation because while novels can take all the time they need to tell a particular story, a movie has to tell it in two or three hours.

Since TV can run for several episodes, this allows the story to have more room to breathe, and less story gets cut out than it otherwise might have. 

Is the book always better than the movie?

View this post on Instagram

that which the sea breaks against.

A post shared by Looking for Alaska (@alaskaonhulu) on

Most people would say yes, particularly when it comes to most movies based on Dr. Seuss’s books (especially The Cat the Hat) or when it comes to supposedly “unfilmable” novels like Where’d You Go Bernadette or The Goldfinch. Both of those novels were beloved, yet both of the movies stiffed at the box office. 

Still, there are other best-sellers that seem to gain new life when they go to the big screen. Two of the most commonly cited  examples of movies that are better than their books are Jaws and The Godfather.

Fans will debate endlessly just how much the movies changed (or didn’t change) from the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings novels, but it’s safe to say that the movies and the books are both well-loved, if not equally loved. 

By most accounts, Looking for Alaska has been adapted very well. It has a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus stating “Bittersweet and beautifully performed, Looking For Alaska is the rare adaptation that deviates from its source material only to find something even better.”