“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret … is to press play.” This is the premise of the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher. Produced by Disney child star, now pop artist, Selena Gomez and directed by Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal,” “If/Then”) this series follows high school student Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette). He receives a box at his doorstep containing 13 cassette tapes from Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a student Clay knew who recently committed suicide. Each of the tapes explains a reason why Hannah decided to kill herself.
This show delves into many socially relevant issues, including suicide, rape, sl*t-shaming, bullying, and cyberbullying. It presents these issues in a way that is authentic and that the average high school student can relate to without seeming like a documentary about teen suicide.
We are taken into Hannah’s world through flashbacks. In each episode, we see the people around Hannah treat her like trash, and we start to understand the downward spiral that led to her final act. Not only do we get to experience Hannah’s point of view, but we watch Clay listen to the tapes and witness his journey through the confusion of the situation.
Minette and Langford succeed in portraying “real teenagers.” Clay wears a bike helmet, works at a movie theater, and feels like an average teen boy, as opposed to the fake, lovelorn, yearning-for-the-girl stereotype we are so often presented with. As for Hannah, she has a sense of humor and “walks to the beat of her own drum.” She has inner demons just like any teenager that she must attempt to ward off, but sadly she ultimately gives in to hers.
Each episode moves the story along and ends with an insane cliffhanger. This show is unique in that it doesn’t romanticize its content. It is pretty daring of Netflix to feature such mature content to middle schoolers and high schoolers. But it is a risk that certainly paid off, since the show is getting a lot of acclaim for bringing these social issues to light and helping parents and children discuss them.
There are many differences between the book and the TV show, but one of the major changes is that Clay listens to the tapes over a number of weeks, while in the book he listens to them in one sitting. This gives the show an opportunity to expand on each of the characters mentioned in the tapes, people who in some way were a factor in Hannah’s suicide. Another key difference is that Hannah’s parents (played by Kate Walsh and Brian D’arcy James) have a prominent role in the show, as opposed to the book where you don’t see them at all. They blame the school for their daughter’s death and seek an investigation into how she died to get answers and closure.
Some other notable performances are those of Miles Heizer (Alex Standall), Alisha Boe (Jessica Davis), Brandon Flynn (Justin Foley), and Justin Prentice (Bryce Walker). It’s incredible what these young actors are able to do with such mature and difficult material. Their story lines are developed, and they have a lot of screen time. Each character (with the exception of Bryce) grows throughout the season and attempts to justify his or her actions.
The first season of “13 Reasons Why” ends with a huge cliffhanger, and many questions are left unanswered. There have been hints that a second season may be in the works, even though the first ends where the book ends. I am a huge fan of the novel and would love to see a season 2 because the Netflix show gives all of the characters a three-dimensionality that I feel is missing in the book. In the book, we only know Clay and Hannah’s perspective, and the whole book is Clay on his bike listening to the tapes. In the show you see everyone’s point of view, which at times leaves the viewer questioning whether what our dead protagonist says is actually true. Was she misleading us the whole time?
“13 Reasons Why” is worth watching because it is new, fresh, and emotionally stimulating. Each episode leaves you wanting to know more of the details of why Hannah Baker died. Each character, including the adults, are so relatable that you get emotionally attached to them and genuinely sympathize with their situation. The script is elegantly written and pinpoints the life of the high schooler without feeling cheesy or overly complex. Bullying is such a relevant topic in schools. It is vitally important that teens watch this show not only for the entertainment, but for the useful information about these horrific teen tragedies.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.