Random Musings on 13 Reasons Why

I read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher a few years ago. At the time, I appreciated it for the enmeshed perspectives of Hannah and Clay and the partly-realistic portrayal of high school life in a small town. For a book that deals with suicide, I remembered it as having a rather hopeful ending, even after Hannah seemingly shreds anyone she felt played a role in her demise.

Then I watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. (I binge-watched the entire thing over a long weekend–probably not the best decision I’ve ever made.) I had mostly avoided any reviews and critiques of the series because I had already read the book, so I knew the basic gist of each episode. Well, I thought I knew. Of course, the creators took a wealth of creative license in developing the screen version. Hannah’s and Clay’s parents and secondary characters like Alex and Jessica are far more fleshed out as we witness their perspectives of the before and after. Each new episode felt darker than the last, and I found myself feeling really sad for Hannah and for Clay and for Mrs. Bradley. By the time I finished the last episode, I was beginning to understand the backlash that was building. Just a simple google of “13 Reasons Why” will return multiple articles lambasting the program as irresponsible and dangerous. And I don’t necessarily disagree. That discussion would probably be better served in a separate post.

So I decided to reread the book. Lucky for me, my classroom copy actually came back! (Thanks, Danny!) I dropped it in my bag and reintroduced myself to the Hannah and Clay I had first met. I found myself checking off a list of differences: Clay walks around the city in the book, and he rides a bike in the series; Hannah’s parents own a shoe store in the book, and they own a drug store in the series; and Hannah’s suicide in the book is not as graphic as it is in the series. The clearest difference for me, though, was Hannah’s attitude. She recognizes that “No matter what [she’s] said so far, no matter who [she’s] spoken of, it all comes back to…[Hannah]” (Asher 253). And while she doesn’t say it outright, she’s clearly clinically depressed. The series doesn’t go far enough in exploring these ideas, though, and I think that’s where it misses the mark.

The message in both is still the same, “Everything…affects everything” (202). Every action has a consequence, and every effect has a cause. The difference is in how we respond in those situations. We are in control of our own reactions to the way someone treats us. We have the power to choose to speak up when we see something wrong. And when we recognize those strengths, we reclaim our responsibility to ourselves.