13 Reasons Why is a piece of media which needs no introduction. As a book, it was released in 2007 and hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list in July of 2011. As a Netflix show, it has stopped the TV streaming world.
It’s been available for streaming for about two weeks, and I’m already hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least started it. It centers around the tragedy of Hannah Baker, a high school junior who kills herself and leaves a box of cassette tapes for the people who she feels contributed to her suicide. Throughout the book, you see the characters only from Hannah’s perspective and the perspective of the recipient of tape #11, Clay Jensen.
The show, however is a little more fleshed out. It gives you more of a 360º view of the story, showing you pieces of the home and social lives of Hannah’s 13 Reasons Why. This is an important element of the show, but it’s not why I want to talk about it.
Something about seeing it all played out onscreen and not in my imagination made it harder to shake off.
I wasn’t in high school when I read 13 Reasons Why. I was in eighth grade, and I borrowed the book from my best friend at the time to read over spring break. I read the whole thing in one sitting, accompanied by an ice-cold bath and an entire pot of coffee. Let’s just say I wasn’t in the healthiest place mentally. I was really struggling with my body image and mental health, and in all honesty, I probably shouldn’t have read the book.
I did read it though, I binge read it the way I like to binge watch shows. Finishing it left me feeling grayer than the book’s black-and-white cover. I couldn’t explain it, but it just felt like it was real, like it was something I could have done. I didn’t do anything too rash though. I returned the book to my friend and went on with my life. It might have occasionally crossed my mind, but I never gave it much thought after that.
I even remember perusing my local Barnes & Noble a few months back and being surprised to see the cover in a new spot. It was still near the YA section, but under the neat little sign that read: “Book to Screen”. Hmm, I remember thinking, surprised it was going to be adapted into a movie.
Little did I know that 13 Reasons Why wasn’t being turned into an easy-to-digest 2-hour movie, but a 13-episode long Netflix show. And wasn’t it Netflix’s Count Olaf who said “I much prefer long-form television to the movies. It’s so convenient to be able to consume entertainment from the comfort of one’s own home”?
Having it be 13 hours long and easily accessible helped speed the watching process along. All told, I think it took me three days to watch the whole thing. I was in a bit of a gloomy funk for those three days, but coming out of it gave me a lot to think about.
The show definitely hit harder than the book. Something about seeing it all played out onscreen and not in my imagination made it harder to shake off. But there were lots of things about the show that I really liked.
For one, Katherine Langford, who plays Hannah, is stunningly beautiful while also still looking like a real person. She’s not waifish and she’s not a supermodel; she looks like someone you could actually go to high school with (and harbor a not-so-secret crush on), and at 21, she’s closer to high school age than a lot of onscreen ‘teenagers’ we’re used to seeing.
They interacted with her, they made eye contact with her in the halls, and then she was gone.
For another, getting the perspective of more than just Hannah and Clay made the reality of Hannah’s situation a lot harsher. People saw her in the weeks leading up to her death. They interacted with her, they made eye contact with her in the halls, and then she was gone.
The permanence of Hannah’s decision is so much more real in the show than the book. You can really see how much she hurt people by leaving, but you can also see how she’s not the most important thing in any of their lives. They still have things to do now that she’s gone, but she can’t be there to see it.
As someone who both hates being out of the loop and has struggled with suicidal thoughts before, that was interesting to see. You can’t stay in the loop if you’re gone. Things have to keep happening whether you’re there to see them or not.
And of course, the show made Hannah’s death all the more bitter. Seeing her alive and moving onscreen made my heart ache for her. All you want when you watch it is for someone to help her. Seeing her sitting alone at her lunch table makes you want to go to her, makes you wish someone else had gone to her.
And of course this is something we all can apply to real life. You never know if the person sitting by themselves at lunch is a potential Hannah Baker or not, but hopefully watching the show can be a motivation to reach out to someone who needs it.
All that being said, I can’t say whether or not you should watch it. It was certainly worth the experience for me to get to see a book that touched me made into a show that touched me even more, but I can only speak for myself. There’s a lot of triggering material in this show, and that seems to get glossed over a lot while people are busy squealing over the fact that the actors who play Justin and Alex are dating in real life.
It’s an incredibly powerful show, one that has the potential to change how suicide awareness and prevention is approached in schools, but one that could also have the potential to make some people relapse into unhealthy thoughts or actions. So I leave it up to you to make the call for yourself, and no matter what you choose I hope you stay safe and remember that there are always more reasons to stick around than there are to leave.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit their website.
Images via Netflix.
Also published on Medium.