I spent my birthday weekend binge-watching the Netflix series adaptation of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. I think that says how much of a fan I was of the book when I read it in high school roughly a decade ago. I’m pretty sure that novel was my first glimpse into the complex issue of suicide. I remember reading the book quickly, my stomach knotting as I learned along with Clay all of the horrible things Hannah Baker had experienced that attributed to her choice to take her own life. I liked the story for its important message of being kind to others, and how that can be a major factor in how someone feels about themselves and the outlook of their life. Of course, the novel paints a very simplistic explanation for the cause of suicide and totally ignores mental health’s role in this issue, but the message is still one I stand by and think is important to spread. So I was excited to see this book come to life through thirteen hour-long episodes.
But the series was not the same book I read all those years ago. In fact, I would not have read the book if it contained all that the series did, because it was intense. In the vein of crime dramas like Pretty Little Liars and Broadchurch, 13 Reasons Why tacks onto Clay’s journey several other intertwining plots all surrounding Hannah’s suicide and the tapes. Hannah’s parents are filing a lawsuit against the school for not doing enough to help their daughter. The previous listeners of the tapes are worried about Clay’s reaction to them and make plans to stop Clay from pursuing justice. Seeds are also laid for a second season as we see the bullying of one student spark him to begin preparations for what appears to be a school shooting with specific targets in mind. It makes sense that the adaptation of the book would have to be more dramatic as no one would watch thirteen hours of Clay wandering around his city listening to tapes.
If you’re a fan of crime dramas, especially ones focused on high schoolers and their secrets, this will surely delight you. Only a few episodes toward the middle lagged compared to the action and intensity of the others. The show also offers up some important messages about being kind to others, guilt, justice, and secrets. I also liked that we get to learn a lot more about the different people on the tapes and see them for more than just what they did to Hannah. That aspect of the show makes me think of shows like Skins or This Is Us, which show multiple sides to stories and people.
I would caution you about the content of some of the later episodes. There’s two instances of relatively graphic rape, and warnings are put at the start of those episodes, but still, proceed with caution if that would be triggering to you. Likewise, there is a very graphic and gory scene that shows Hannah killing herself (in the adaptation she slits her wrists in the bathtub). I had to look away because it was really intense. My biggest qualm with the series was how much they dramatized Hannah’s suicide. I don’t know if I would consider it being glorified, but I did think the attention they gave the actual act was unnecessary.
I enjoyed watching the series, although taking it all in over the course of three days was a little much for me. The teen drama felt a little overblown in some parts, but I liked that it maintained its core message as well as explored some other important questions. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a new crime drama to binge, this is a great show to put in your Netflix queue. But if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the book, you will be disappointed.
Featured Image: Gosh!TV
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