When I was in 10th grade, I was just starting to really become a reader again. I was learning about different genres, finding books on my own again. I was discovering the young adult genre, which at the time was still largely unrecognized. During this time, I stumbled upon a little young adult novel called Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.
Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker. She recently committed suicide, and her classmates are attempting to move forward. One of her classmates, Clay Jensen, is shocked to receive a box of thirteen cassette tapes, all recorded by Hannah right before her death. In the tapes, Hannah outlines the thirteen reasons and thirteen people she feels had a hand in influencing her choice. The tapes are passed around between the thirteen individuals, and the truth begins to shake up the school.
I picked up the book when I happened upon it in a bookstore, and I breezed through it soon after. I immediately fell in love. I was in awe of this book. I had not yet read a book that was directly targeted to a teenage audience that dealt with such difficult topics, like suicide, bullying, and rape, among other things, and in such a raw, authentic way. I was blown away by the content of the book, and I was deeply affected by the story. I was so touched by this book that I ended up passing it around to six friends to read.
Since then, this book has remained one of my absolute favorites I have ever read. I have actually re-read it a couple of times as well. When I heard that the television adaptation of the book was going to move forward, I was so excited to learn who would be among the cast and to see how the story would play out. While it did seem to take awhile, we now have a brilliant adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix.
I was skeptical about the adaptation at first. I was not particularly familiar with the cast, and I just wasn’t sure how they would manage to bring the story to life. It was such an important book to me, and I just wanted to see it done well. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. With each episode, I became more entranced, more impressed with how this show was made.
First off, there is the cast. This is an amazing group of young adults bringing these characters to life. Dylan Minnette (Clay Jensen) brings a beautiful depth to his character. Clay may be seen by some as ‘The Nice Guy’, the quiet, somewhat shy boy who doesn’t really know anything about navigating the world, but Dylan’s performance makes it clear that Clay observes and understands much more than he lets on. Christian Navarro (Tony), Alisha Boe (Jessica), Brandon Flynn (Justin), Justin Prentice (Bryce), Miles Heizer (Alex), Ross Butler (Zach), Devin Druid (Tyler), among the rest of the cast also bring an incredible amount of dimension and emotion to their characters, bringing life into them even if they are not the center focus of every episode.
But the real highlight in the cast for me was Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker. This was the role that had me most concerned with who was going to be cast. Hannah is pretty much the center of the story, the individual who shares her story and helps others see things more clearly. This role needed a strong, powerful female to bring her to life. And Katherine was exactly that. I believed every single moment of her performance, saw her as Hannah Baker. I felt the things she felt in some capacity. Katherine so beautifully made Hannah even more real than she was out of the book. I grieved for Hannah’s loss–still find myself grieving–because she was there, experiencing these things, being brought to life in the most raw, realistic way possible.
There is also the visual aspect of this show. Everything about it was so beautiful and eye-catching. The transitions between Clay’s present, Hannah’s past, and even the occasional blending of the two in Clay’s mind created a real, multi-dimensional depiction of experiences going on in the school and in the lives of the students. Clay and Hannah in particular go through some similar situations, and the movement between their personal realities is smooth and connects their stories in a clean, emotional way. There are so many connections you start to make sense of as the show goes on. As Hannah says, “Everything affects everything.”
Perhaps the most important element of the show, though, is the content itself. The experiences Hannah goes over in her tapes include an immense amount of in-person and cyber bullying, thoughts of and successful attempts at suicide, and two experiences of rape. Two female characters are raped by the same boy, and Hannah commits her suicide. These scenes in the show are extremely graphic, depicting the experiences with a raw, hard-hitting honesty. It is so incredibly hard to watch–I found myself cringing, wanting to turn away–but as I watched, I realized that these experiences are so very real to so many people. The things that happen to Hannah happen much more often than we would like to admit, but, like Hannah, the victims of sexual assault, rape, and abuse often feel that they have to be silent, because a large portion of society still staples shame to these experiences, makes the victims feel that they should not speak up about what they went through. Seeing the graphic scenes of Hannah and another female characters’ rape is painful and heartbreaking to watch–even if it is fictional–but it is eye-opening, sending us the realization that this does happen, that this is not fiction for so many people. It is the responsibility of filmmakers and creators to entertain, but they also have a responsibility to be honest and to make audiences consider the world around them.
I am so impressed with Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Not only did it completely do the book justice, but it went even further and added so many brilliant elements to the story as a whole. The cast, the visuals, and the content of the show are incredible. I realize that it is ‘just a show’, but it is also shedding light on important topics, getting people to at least consider the world and the people around them. As difficult as it is to watch, it is honest and important, and it has the ability to start a conversation that could potentially change perspectives and get people to pay attention. And it all started with that one little book.
(I realize that Thirteen Reasons Why is a show, a form of entertainment, and that it should not at all be taken as a suggestion or a definitive resource for how to handle the situations that occur in it. I also realize that there are problematic elements of this show, and that it is not a perfect depiction of suicide, rape, mental illness, bullying, or any of the other topics it tackles. These are simply my opinions of the show. Please know that I do recognize that there are some issues with any show like this, and that this show is not going to be for everyone.)
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit 13reasonswhy.info for resources on how to get help, as well as a guide for discussing the series and its impact. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit their website. Do not be afraid to seek help. It is okay to tell someone–to tell yourself–that you are not okay.
And don’t be afraid to talk to, or even just smile at someone throughout your day. You never know how it may change them for the better.