Famous Last Words (Looking for Alaska review)

I remember when I first read Looking for Alaska. It wasn’t the first time my heart had broken from a book but, it was one that would be with me for a long time. I decided to pick up Looking for Alaska again before the show came out and I’m so glad I did. I don’t usually read books multiple times but, something about Alaska got me to read everything John Green ever published. Something about his writing about way too smart teens and overly elegant speech patterns made me secretly want to be a character in his books. They were perfect. Damaged just enough to be lovable. Using big words and perfectly exposing introspective ideals that even if they don’t fit perfectly they convey so much more about the character. You can tell this made me sound not only extremely pretentious but, incredibly annoying. (I apologize to everyone who knew me back then and a few who know me now.)

I fell in love with his characters and I think so far Paper Towns is my favorite by far. Margo Roth Spiegelman is awesome because no one writes about even fluffy women as if they’re desirable. She’s intelligent, daring, and just the person to get me out of my shell like she did for Quentin. Looking back that might have been a bit pathetic. It’s about putting people on pedestals a bit like Looking For Alaska. It’s definitely something I needed to hear when I was growing up.

The thing I like now about John Green’s writing is that the love interest is always a person. They have things they have wants and needs and an entire life without the MC in it. Which brings me to Alaska Young (Kristine Forseth). In the book, she was flirty and mysterious and we never got a look into who she was. Pudge (Charlie Plummer)thought she was perfect and so did we. Everyone’s perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Returning to the book this last week, I felt bad for Alaska. Knowing what happens to her and really listening to her this time though she broke my heart. Not because of her sudden exit from our lives but, that she was really and truly failed by the people around her. She asked for help with every breath and no stopped to even ask her if she was okay. I remember being like that when I was really going through depression badly. Literally telling anyone who would listen about the pain I was in. I knew I wasn’t faking it well enough for people not to notice but, no one stepped in when there was time to spare for them to save her. Her boyfriend Jake also must have had a terrible time in the book but, we never see what he went through even though they were still together and he’s on a phone call with her only an hour before she dies.

The show takes what is about a six hour audio book to read and blows it up into a full television series. It takes away a bunch of the mystery showing scenes that are completely from Alaska’s point of view and really show us in more ways than one what she was really going through. I think they were trying to make her a more three-dimensional character but, I feel it took a little away from the latter half of the book. It’s only two episodes which encompass the mystery that is Alaska young and kind of ends in an anti-climatic breeze. Maybe it’s not about why she died instead, about the person who died and the spot they used to take up in their lives.

Thank you Tanya Lao for probably the only good picture of these two.

Chip (Denny Love) to me was way more impactful to me in the show. Whereas in the book even though the things he got Pudge to do were engaging Colonel himself wasn’t. We understand he’s mad at the rich people for being rich and being assholes we don’t really get to much more of him than that. He’s angry and he holds grudges. In one of the best additions to the story, we get the Cottilion scene. For the first time, we actually see Chip as a multi-faceted individual. He tells his friends there is a truce during the debutant ball and it’s about Sara (Landry Bender). And it was so heartbreaking watching him come to her rescue for him to be shot down so publicly. I knew I was invested in the show seeing them sitting in the downpour of the sprinklers. And she knows and understands him so well at that moment… It was such a beautiful scene between the two of them. It just hurt to watch them inevitably break up. And watching her get together with Longwell felt like such a betrayal to the audience as well.

One of the major problems I have with this adaptation is the way they handled Takumi (Jay Lee). I think Jay Lee’s performance is spot on my problem I guess is how his character doesn’t really get his moment to shine. In the show, it’s only hinted that he may have feelings for Alaska. In the book, when it comes to light, he says one of the most impactful lines of the book it really frames the whole thing differently. “You don’t have a monopoly on Alaska.” He basically tells Miles he doesn’t own grief. Her memory doesn’t live and die with him. That really hit me ten or so years ago and it was kinda sad not having this scene in the show. It really repositions the book and shows how there’s a bunch more going on in scenes that we didn’t see. Takumi keeping his last memory of her to himself was also a good character moment.

The final character I want to highlight is Mr. Hyde (Ron Cephas Jones). If I’m being frank I don’t know how to talk about him. His backstory is so sweet it makes my heart full and every time he came around I’d hang on his every word. He has always been the wise man in the book but, even more, now he has already to some degree walked all their paths and feels a bit of his own regret that he couldn’t save Alaska.  In the miniseries, it’s shown even more how much it pains him to write her question on the board and what it means to see it there.

There’s probably a lot more I want to say about Looking for Alaska. It’s definitely a book I’m gonna keep with me for a long time. I love stories about mental health because I feel that talking about things always makes the burden a little lighter. Like in the book, we all have our crosses to bear but, I think talking about them can put a new perspective on them. Quoting one of my favorite games… “The world ends with you.”

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