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There’s no shortage of books (or fan fiction) turning into films and TV shows. The question that inevitably gets asked every single time is “do we need this?”—and the ensuing answers are always mixed. Author John Green is no stranger to this, having two of his successful YA novels, The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns, turned into films in the past few years. The conversation now moves towards his 2005 novel, Looking For Alaska, which is slated to premiere as an eight-episode limited series this October. So, again, we’re asking the question: Is Looking For Alaska really the YA series we need right now?
Starring Charlie Plummer as Pudge, the limited series is being produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who both have The O.C. and Gossip Girl production credits under their belts. Both those early 2000s teen dramas gave us eternal characters, like the queen of the Upper East Side and the bad boy from Chino, as well as killer soundtracks. There’s no denying the impact these shows had, or the producer’s abilities to make us feel bad for rich, white, and spoiled characters having to come-of-age. Green is also a producer for this series, which is important to note for all those just waiting to scream that the book was better.
For everyone who wasn’t on Tumblr in 2014, the story follows Pudge as he goes off to boarding school and attempts to uncover “the great perhaps” of his life. This book is also credited for the ever famous, constantly reblogged and re-pinned line “If people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane.” Don’t get us wrong—Looking For Alaska makes for an excellent YA introduction to major topics like loss, infatuation, and the growing desire in every teenager to gain independence. As for being made into an entire limited series, Looking For Alaska sort of feels like it should exist as a perfectly sized paperback, and nothing more.
The main reason why a Looking For Alaska series edges on concerning is the character of Alaska herself. She is the exact definition of a manic pixie dream girl, just like Summer of 500 Days of Summer, and of course the character that inspired the term, Claire from Elizabethtown. The definition, coined by Nathan Rabin, is described as a character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Characters like this are overdone and not needed. The market is already saturated by the female characters whose only purpose is to enhance the lives of male characters. While obviously not every story needs to be about women, we don’t need more stories about women where they don’t have a personality outside of the idealized one created by the male lead.
The mental health element of the story is another area of concern. We’re all for representation of mental health issues on screen, but we acknowledge that the topic has to be approached with sensitivity. The book leaves Alaska’s death ambiguous. Was it an accident, or did she crash the car on purpose? The book-to-screen adaptation of 13 Reasons Why came under fire for romanticizing suicide, spurring outcry from mental health professionals, warning about the impact the show may have on at-risk teens. Netflix recently announced that they revised Hannah’s suicide scene from 13 Reasons Why. Even if Looking For Alaska has the foresight to not include her death, there’s still a concern about how mental health and suicide will be depicted on screen. It’s also worth noting that one of the recommendations from experts states that media should not speculate the reasons behind someone’s suicide, which is basically the entire plot of the book.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t other stories more worthy of being retold. The Hate U Give and Love, Simon are successful adaptations for stories that are needed in 2019. Green himself even has other stories that are more worthy of being told. His book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored with David Levithan, features multiple LGBT characters, including the story’s protagonist. Green’s most recent novel, Turtles All The Way Down, centres around a 16-year-old girl dealing with OCD and anxiety. With media of all sorts aiming to include everyone in their stories, why aren’t these the ones being told?
Not much is known about the series at this point, aside from casting and a few photos. What’s left to figure out is how much creative liberty the producers plan to take with this story. A boarding school makes for a perfect teen series setting (see: Zoey 101) and giving Alaska more of her own identity could really help drive this home as a successful teen series (Producers have already said the series will be less male-gazey than the novel). This remake is one that can no doubt be done correctly, but the question (our great perhaps, if you will) remains—in 2019, do we really need it?
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or struggling with mental health, it is important to seek help. You are not alone. If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to your closest hospital. If you are looking to talk to someone, you can call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645, or consult this list of hotlines to find what best fits your needs.