Teen Take: 13 Reasons Why

Teen Take: 13 Reasons Why

May 5, 2017
13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is the story of high school sophomore Hannah Baker and why she killed herself. It was originally published as a young adult novel by author Jay Asher back in 2007, but has only recently gained extreme popularity after being picked up by Netflix. Huge controversy has surrounded the show and has led many people to wonder whether Netflix should take down the series entirely. Other people have described the show as a perfect opportunity to bring up a hard-to-talk-about topic. The dispute has caused people who haven’t read the novel or seen the show and want to do so, to be stuck in the middle of a firestorm. So, what’s really the truth? Does the show glorify suicide and let those who commit other crimes get off the hook? First, one has to find the enormous differences between page and screen.

The novel by Jay Asher starts with a teenager named Clay anonymously sending off a box of tapes at the post office. It then rewinds to the previous day where Clay receives the box of mysterious tapes. He rushes to listen to them, but is terrified when he hears Hannah Baker’s voice, because he knows she killed herself a couple of weeks before. The book follows Clay as he “binge listens” to the tapes all in one night. The reader is able to understand the backstory of what has happened because Clay sprinkles in his own thought process as she speaks. At the end of the novel, Clay decides that every little thing someone does can impact other people, and he begins to change his ways, but I won’t say how, so that I don’t give away the ending. It has a harmless enough message, and Clay’s thoughts seem to let the reader know that Hannah Baker could have had a lot more support if she’d tried. However, the book is quite graphic in describing Hannah’s party-filled life which involves underage drinking, violence, and rape. It seems that every dreadful thing in Hannah’s small town happens to her. After Clay finishes the tapes and vows to change, the novel ends, but with many loose ends. However, the Netflix series also leaves more questions to be answered.

The show still follows Clay as he listens to Hannah’s tapes, but it takes him weeks to listen to them. Each side of a tape is a new episode, and each episode is an hour long. This leaves a lot of empty space where the show explores many things not talked about in the book, including much of what happens after Hannah’s death. New characters are introduced and much more happens. The characters are explored more deeply and the show has more of an air of mystery. Despite having the same general themes and ideas, the series and book have many differences. The problem is that many of these differences make things more confusing or leave more unanswered questions after the episode ends. Some of the changes also take away from the show’s importance and serious message. It makes the series seem more like a teen soap opera than a deep story that can show the seriousness and horrors of suicide. On top of that, the show just isn’t realistic in the portrayals of the characters and what it’s like to be a high schooler in general. I will say, the first few episodes were quite intriguing, however. They kept me watching. But the captivating air of the show also took away from the hard topic of suicide and made it seem similar to a murder mystery, rather than the brutal honesty of the book, which I didn’t like either.

Both the novel and the show are less than average interpretations of what drawing attention to suicide prevention should be. Both types of media are graphic. The television series is especially and unnecessarily gritty, with its constant stream of profanity and depictions of violence. There are also major flaws in the reasoning of young Hannah Baker. In the show and the novel, Hannah brushes off the help of the bumbling adults and almost villainizes the very unhelpful school counselor, who acts as if he was never prepared to handle a student with depression. Hannah seems to have experienced every awful thing, from the pettiness of a bunch of teenagers to much, much more. However, many people who go through a dark time in their lives are able to move on and live healthy, happy lives. Yet Hannah kills herself and creates the tapes, almost as revenge against those who hurt her. It makes suicide seem like an option, like the best weapon to get back at someone, the greatest “I told you so”. Teenagers are the most likely age group to commit suicide, and unfortunately, it seems we’re also the target audience of the show. For those who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, the show may not be helpful. In fact, most professionals who deal with teens like these say that the show is more likely to heighten the rate of suicide. I personally felt like the series was too dramatic, and the book was too dark. I felt like both were unrealistic. The directors and author seemed to be trying to show the overwhelming sadness and gore of suicide, but it ended up being just melodramatic and bad.

Overall, I would not recommend either the book or the Netflix series. Neither left me wanting more, but instead wondering why something this horrific could gain so much popularity. Suicide is a heavy topic, and it should be treated as such. It shouldn’t be glamorized, or seem like an intense episode of CSI Miami. Suicide shouldn’t be portrayed as the perfect revenge or the way you get the last laugh. Suicide is a terrible, serious, very real problem, and neither the book or the movie gave me that feeling. Instead, I felt like Hannah Baker was going to pop out at any moment, alive, and say how she really got them and how the cops can cart a few complicit people off to jail now. That probably would have been a better ending. The novel and the show spent more time explaining why Hannah was driven to take her own life rather than the aftermath. The novel didn’t mention Hannah’s grieving parents and how both of them were wondering how they could let their own baby girl be so unnoticed that she killed herself. It doesn’t show her sobbing grandmother or her wailing best friend or her whining dog who is wondering why his Hannah isn’t around anymore. Instead, it passes around the blame to Hannah’s classmates all tied up in a neat little package filled with tapes. The series and the book seem to better fit under the trending hashtag rather than along the ranks of attempted suicide survivors and those who have lost loved ones to suicide. However, the show seems to glamorize suicide much more. It also creates many new plot holes and times when nothing at all is realistic. Yet, the series did show more of what happened after the tapes and Hannah’s death, though that too was dramatized. The show also creates more suspense and was, sadly, more entertaining than the book. That’s why I give both of them an equal rating of a 3. I could probably go on all day about why the novel and show are so troubling. Maybe I could write my own book and Netflix could pick it up, too. I’d call it 1300 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why is Pretty Bad.

Jordan Mundy

I live in Asheville and go to a local high school. I was chosen to be a member of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps during middle school, and adore reading and writing of any type: creative writing, poetry, and of course, journalism. I also like acting, singing, and public speaking. You can usually find me doing any of the things stated above, or hanging in my Eno!

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