Ten years ago, author Jay Asher published Thirteen Reasons Why. It became a New York Times bestseller in 2011. Teen girls everywhere love the book because of how it captivates teen angst and complicated characters. But most of all, the origin of Netflix’s latest original is how eye-opening it is in terms of suicide.
We can never really know why something happens until it happens.
Sometimes, it can’t be stopped. Sometimes, it’s just too much.
The Story Itself
In this Washington Post review of the series, the writer states that the characters very rarely come across as real.
I’d like to say that I disagree with his statement. Teenagers are often erratic, wild, naïve, impulsive, and stupid. They don’t watch what they say or think about the consequences words and actions have while in one of those moments—and if you’ve ever been an angsty teenager (and we all have, unless you’re an alien from outerspace)—you come to realize that Asher’s novel depicts how easy it is for people to turn nothing into a whole lot of something.
Teens go to extremes. They make mistakes. That is real.
"It has to get better. How we treat each other has to get better."
— Jessica (@jwencle) April 2, 2017
Perhaps why this adaptation of said novel works in bringing the realness of the characters is because it isn’t afraid to show that all of the characters can be total idiots, bullies, and cowards. It isn’t afraid to go there—and if you’ve watched the series, you’ll quickly understand that it literally goes there when touching subjects such as rape and suicide. I will admit that I covered my eyes and lowered the volume on my laptop because I couldn’t take actually watching something like that happen, even if it is fictional.
The fact of the matter is that this isn’t a light topic. This kind of thing happens frequently in an array of places to an assortment of people from various backgrounds.
#13ReasonsWhy is so important because it doesn't sensationalize or romanticize suicide and depression and bullying.
— Joey Geotina (@JoeyGeotina) April 1, 2017
Suicide is a silent offender people don’t like to talk a lot about. People can apologize, give their condolences, and act sad about it, snoop around for a reason and still never quite understand why it happened in the first place.
The Production Value
Back to the basics, the adaptation’s story interweaves past and present events throughout the episodes. It can be confusing at times, but aesthetically it’s actually kind of pleasing. It starts with the tapes and then engulfs the viewer into the actual events Hannah experienced, bringing the moments to life in a new way.
— Jackie T. (@CptJackSparrohh) April 1, 2017
Dylan Minnette, who has made appearances in Scandal and was a protagonist in the film adaptation of Goosebumps back in 2015, did an excellent job portraying Clay Jensen. Minnette’s ability to convey a range of emotions almost effortlessly and deeply reminded me of Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie Kelmeckies in Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Near the final episodes, Minnette’s portrayal as the socially awkward teen turned avenger of sorts gears up the narrative to the pinnacle: getting those on the tapes to own up to their parts in Hannah’s suicide, as well as try to salvage what’s left of her reputation.
But what really hit me in the feels was in the final episode, when Clay, in a very raw confession, tells Mr. Porter (Derek Luke) that his part in Hannah’s death was his fear of loving her. In getting the others to accept their guilt, he finally admits his.
Langfords’ portrayal as the ever complicated and misunderstood Hannah is both amazing and infuriating. The viewer might find themselves getting annoyed by Hannah’s sudden shifts from happy to angry or from sad to erratic. I found myself wanting to reach out to her, shake her, and tell her to open her eyes—her parents care for her, Clay cares for her, gossip doesn’t matter, and that the teenagers who hurt her don’t matter. My first instinct to do that is pretty much the wrong thing to do to someone like Hannah, and I suppose that’s coming from the insight of a new adult. But as a teenager, the gossip and the people who hurt you are pretty much all that’s on your mind. It’s all that matters in the moment.
There’s a certain moment in the series where Tony (Christian Navarro) and Clay are talking about how truthful—or untruthful—Hannah’s version of the story is. It brings up the hot topic of the unreliable narrator. Tony astutely tells Clay the tapes are Hannah’s truth. But what is Clay’s truth? What about the rest of the people on the list? It brings up the issue of whether or not Hannah’s account is reliable enough when it comes to getting the whole truth. After all, don’t we all have a version of the truth? A version that paints us in the just side rather than cast us out into the shark infested waters?
#13ReasonsWhy is teaching me so much about reaching out to people because you never know what people are going through.
— Destinee (@shay_ambo61) April 1, 2017
The first episode hooks the viewer, then midway the show slows down with repetitive dialogue before picking back up again near the final four episodes. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but it’s one worth getting strapped to.
There are cringeworthy, humorous, and awkward moments. But most of all, there are insightful moments as we get begin to understand that this thing—suicide—isn’t always as spur of the moment as some might think. Sometimes it’s a long trek across treacherous terrain. Sometimes it’s built up from moments that tear people down.
Thirteen Reasons Why is about as raw and messy as it gets. But then again, that’s life.