Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ tackles the complexities of teenage suffering
When Jay Asher’s teen fiction novel, “13 Reasons Why,” first came out in 2007, I was among the many who were immediately engrossed with the New York Times bestseller. When first hearing that the page-turner would be hitting Netflix screens, all of us “13 Reasons Why” fans around the world were, rightfully so, intrigued. As a story that is filled with taboo topics, and with it being as intimate, intense and personal as it is, many us were questioning how these words and passages would play out on screen.
For those who didn’t have the chance to immerse themselves in drama-filled mystery, “13 Reasons Why” tells the story of why high schooler Hannah Baker decides to end her life, but there comes a twist with the way she chooses to do so. Before Hannah commits suicide, she decides to leave behind 13 cassette tapes; each tape illustrates a story, relationship (or lack thereof) and overall reason why her life ended after snowballing out of control. Most of those who are on Hannah’s cassettes are blatantly aware of their misdoing to Hannah, but when sweet and shy Clay Jensen receives the tapes, he is more than confused as to what he might’ve done to contribute to Hannah’s suicide.
“13 Reasons Why” tackles hard topics: suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence and slut-shaming, to name a few. These topics are, and will always be, pressing themes that should be addressed and talked about within our society; awareness for those affected by such hardships should always be a forefront. That being said, it should be recognized that the Netflix series does not hold back in depicting many of the above topics. With the controversy surrounding the series’ graphic portrayals of these issues, it is recommended that those who have a history with any of these themes take caution and consideration in viewing the series, as certain scenes have been found to be highly sensitive.
But, despite the controversy, the television show, created by Brian Yorkey, did an exemplary job of recreating Hannah’s story to shed light on how even the smallest acts of bullying can make a big impact on an individual's life, and how you should never assume anything of another individual because he or she could be going through a multitude of problems hidden behind a smiling face in the hallways. Both are issues that are bound to hit home and resonate with many young adults around the world, as it did popularly when the novel first came out 10 years ago.
As Clay listens to each cassette day by day, I found it impossible to stop myself from eagerly binging through episodes, pushing the “play next episode” button immediately, one after another. With the ability to attribute a whole hour-long episode to each person that Hannah deems a reason why, rather than the 24 hours that Clay uses to listen to all the tapes in the book, the Netflix series was able to introduce new storylines that readers of the novel had not encountered before, leaving them pleasantly surprised.
Without giving away any spoilers, an added dynamic for Clay’s character involves confrontation and investigation about the rest of the reasons why. This take on Clay’s journey learning and coping with Hannah’s death allows the audience to see the duality and complexity hidden within Hannah’s stories. Viewers can now gain a more intimate understanding of the characters and their background stories beyond only what Hannah speaks of on her cassettes in the novel. A few characters whose storylines prove exceptionally gripping, especially to those who have read the book, are Jessica Davis, Justin Foley and Tony Padilla. Additionally, the series embeds a desire for justice for Hannah in its storyline through both Clay and Hannah’s parents, adding to its overall intrigue and appeal.
Seeing the series adapt and expand aspects of the book in new ways will have lovers of Asher’s bestseller completely engrossed with its interpretations. Likewise, newcomers will get the pleasure of watching the mystery unfold for the first time but, most importantly, they will get the chance to fall in love with Hannah for the first time as well. Hannah’s story brings us back to first kisses, crushes and love for each heartbreaking aspect on her tape and, before you know it, you too will have watched the entire series within a few days.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter