The first half of this post will be my review on the book, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book review will be completely spoiler-free so if you haven't read the book (or seen the show) and want to know more about it and my thoughts on it, you're safe to read it without fear of spoilers. However, the second half will be a discussion on the television show that just premiered March 31st on Netflix with the same title, Thirteen Reasons Why. The discussion of the show will have spoilers so if you haven't read, or watched, and you're worried about the spoilers go consume both or either and then come back and discuss with me!
TRIGGER WARNING: this book deals with topics such as rape, suicide, self harm, sexual assault, and depression. If you are sensitive to all or any of these topics please be careful when reading, if you decide to read.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is about Clay Jensen, a high school student who comes home after work one day and has a mysterious package on his doorstep waiting for him. Inside the package is a shoe box filled with cassette tapes. On the tapes is the voice of Hannah Baker, a student and friend of Clay's who recently committed suicide. She right up front says that if you've received these tapes, you're one of the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide.
This is a very thought provoking book and I really enjoyed it. The story is definitely one that grips you and has you completely hooked from the get go. You want to know who the other people Hannah points a finger at, you want to know what everyone has done to her to make her this depressed, and you want to know why Clay is on the tapes to begin with, especially since he doesn't know.
However, when it comes to some of the writing, I had a connection issue with the characters. We are in Clay's POV so we don't get to know any of the other characters or why they did what they did. We hear Hannah say "there are thirteen sides to every story" but the problem with this is that we are only getting one side, and that is Hannah's. Which makes sense, these are her tapes, but it makes it hard for me to fully believe Hannah at her word on everything like Clay does. Because she is depressed, is she seeing what she wants to see or hear at times? Did she misunderstand something or was she mistaken? It's hard to form a conclusion because we only get Hannah's word for it. And although I am not making any assumptions that she's lying, but sometimes mental illnesses can play with you. And Hannah needed help. Sure, that could be a point of discussion, but it doesn't help much when it comes to telling a story. Having a unreliable narrator is okay, but there's no confirmation what is true and what isn't. Also, Clay as a character is a hard one to care about, because for a story where we are completely in his head, I don't feel like I really know him. He's more of the tool or messenger to get Hannah's tapes to the reader. It was hard to fully feel for the characters in this story, you can sympathize with the things that happen to both Hannah and the other characters but because of the writing style I don't feel like I connect enough to put myself in their shoes because I don't feel like I have everyone's stories.
I did like that although some of Hannah's reasons could seem small or like "nothing" to many people, the continuous stacking of bullying, loneliness, and lack of control Hannah had on her own life was written well. I remember Clay thinking something along the lines of What else can go wrong for her? and I couldn't help but agree with him. She had a lot on her shoulders, and it made things harder for her. It was accurate, because the more that happened the more you understand Hannah's outlook on life and what caused her to end it.
Overall I am really happy I read this book. Although I prefer the Netflix Original TV show, I think it's a great companion to the show. Without it, the show wouldn't exist and I think the show is an important piece that really opens up discussions that need to be discussed. When it comes to consent, suicide, depression, seeing the signs of depression, sexual harassment, and rape. I do think that the book did a handful of things better than the TV show, so if you're interested in knowing more go to the discussion. But remember, there are spoilers.
TRIGGER WARNING - this show has the same serious topics that the show had with a couple others such as alcoholism and cutting). However, in the show they have two rape scenes (that are referenced and flashed back more than once) and they show Hannah's suicide. I do talk about her suicide in the third to last paragraph, if that isn't something you want to picture or have floating in your mind again I completely recommend skipping it.
I am not going to rate the show. I don't normally review any sort of other kinds of story telling other than books so this is new for me. But because it's an adaptation and I watched the show right before reading the book (and I am re-watching it currently) I thought that talking about the differences and just on the topics at hand would be interesting.
Right off the bat I have to say that I think the Netflix Original show was better than the book. It improved on so many things that helped make the story more rounded and realistic. The book felt like a long outline to how the show would go, with some changes. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book, but I definitely think I enjoyed it more knowing what happened in the show. Jay Asher had a huge part in making the show, so I suspect he's happy with the improvements also. In this discussion I'll talk about the things the show did better, the things the book did better, some changes that I am not sure how I feel about it fully, and then the very controversial and bold ending the show chose that everyone is currently talking about. Some things I think the show did that the book didn't touch upon (because of it being in Clay's POV plus it was released ten years ago) was the way social media plays into bullying. In the show, Hannah's dad waves off nasty comments on Facebook as no big deal and not real evidence for bullying, because his generation does not understand what it is like to be a teenager during a time where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat exist. When you're a teenager those comments hurt a lot more, and it feels more end of the world. It showed that not only high school students need to discuss bullying and mental illness more but also so do parents with kids who are on social media platforms.
I also think that the message that we don't know where someone is in their mental health or in their life so we could approach people with more kindness and compassion was a great message that held firm throughout the entire thirteen episodes. Choosing kindness could save lives, but so many people forget that. I think that's one of the most important lessons this story leaves you with.
First, what the show did better. I think the show did a great job with having Clay as our main character listening to the tapes, but also getting to know the other people on the tapes. Like I said in the book review, we don't get to know them in the book which makes the story feel one sided, this way we get a more fuller idea of what was happening in Hannah's life. Which I think helped the topic of mental illness so much more. Another thing I loved about the show Clay. In the book I really didn't care much about him. Hannah constantly is mentioning how great Clay is and how his reputation of being a great guy seems too good to be true but isn't. But we don't get to know him. In the show, I feel like I really got to know Clay as a character. I felt for him more, and I was really rooting for him. I also think that although he's known for this nerdy awkward guy and that most of the school likes him, he's not perfect. He's flawed and he made mistakes which made him more real. When he takes that photo of Tyler I am immediately disappointed in him. I hope as he heals from what he's going through he will regret it and apologize to Tyler, if he has the chance to. I also liked the changes to Tony's character, him being a more distinct character, being gay, and really explaining why Hannah turned to him to be the distributor of the tapes helped a lot. Tony was probably my favorite character out of the whole show. His friendship with Clay was something I enjoyed a lot.
Second, the book did do a few things better and while looking back on my experience with both I really appreciated how it was in the book. One thing being why Zach is on the list. In the show, the guy does a stupid selfish action of stealing her notes of encouragement that her class was doing for each other, which made her feel lonely, and lashing out at her when she turns him down. However, in the book, Hannah explains that the note she left him to catch him stealing explained that she was at a low point in her life where those notes of encouragements could really have helped her spirit and that she was hurt that he stole them. He didn't apologize or have any sort of sympathy for her, but instead ignored her. Although if that was the only thing Hannah would have gone through in the book, maybe it wouldn't have mattered as much. But it wasn't it was just another thing that added to her feeling alone and ignored. It made sense why Zach was on the list. He made her feel like nothing. In the show, I don't remember it really telling the audience what the note said, and maybe I was so focused on the mystery of the show I wasn't thinking fully about what she could have written, but it hit me while reading the book. In the show, they have Zach prove that he never discarded her note but instead saved it. If it meant so much to him, why didn't he do anything about her obvious cry for help? Why keep it in his wallet if it wasn't going to motivate him to say something. She is upset at him for throwing away her cry for help, but he didn't, instead he kept on to it and did nothing about it. This isn't a criticism as much as it is just, confusion on Zach's motives. The other thing I think the book did well was really explaining the signs that someone could be suicidal. Two in particular that Hannah showed other than the obvious: talking less, secluding herself, etc. The two in particular was one, giving away possessions, which she did when she gave Tony her bike and said she thought he could use it if his car ever broke down. And two, changing their appearance, which she does when she cuts her hair. In the show, the bike isn't mentioned, but she does cut her hair. The second watch so far of the show, you can hear the teacher mention that one of the signs of someone who is suicidal is changing their appearance, but it fades and Hannah's voice on the tapes over powers it enough that if I didn't have subtitles on I would have missed it.( Edit: On my second watch around I have noticed at the parents meeting with Mr. Porter they have another scene talking about some of the signs of someone with depression. Although I agree that I wish there was a little more, I am happy that I was a little wrong in saying they only mentioned it briefly.) I think the show should have done a better job, considering how many people would be watching and how important that information could be for the audience in their own lives. I also liked the change to Courtney. In the book she just seems like a stuck up selfish person, but in the show although you're not supposed to agree with her decisions, you understand them because of what she's going through. I think it made her a better character.
One change from the book to the show I am not sure how I feel about completely is Bryce raping Hannah versus touching her. I suppose both are technically rape with what Bryce does in the book, and it vaguely says "he doesn't stop there" but we aren't sure how far he goes. I do understand that the way they did it in the show made it easier to show because what he does in the book (puts his hands inside her panties and bra while in the hot tub) makes it harder to film. I am not sure if I would say the show did it "better" but I do understand the change. Another change I cannot decide which way I liked more, is Bryce being on the tapes in the show and the person who was supposed to get them next, versus Hannah in the book saying she doesn't want the tapes going to him because she knows he wouldn't pass them along and play by the rules. I understand both sides, both work fine, I just don't know which one I prefer. The final change that I am honestly just confused about, is the name change from Jenny (book) to Sheri (show). They're the same character and both versions of her tape were pretty identical, so I wonder why they changed her name? The show came out a week ago, so I couldn't find much on it, but I found it odd.
I talk about the suicide in this paragraph, for anyone who may want to skip. Now, to the more controversial topic of Hannah's rape and suicide. Both scenes are incredibly uncomfortable, as they should be. I think they were handled well. With the rape, the camera focuses on Hannah's face. It's long, and it's heartbreaking because you see the light leave her eyes. Especially on her walk home after it happens. The suicide is just as long, but a bit more graphic. You see her fill the tub, get inside, and slit her wrists (which is different from the book, more on that in a moment). She is found by her parents in the same scene which is just as excruciating. Onto the change from pills and drowning (book) to slitting her wrists (show) I understand why the change had to be made. I have seen her suicide scene twice now, one on my first watch, and the second time before writing this section of my discussion so I could have it fresh in my mind. Both times, I could not keep my eyes on the screen, I teared up, my toes curled in, and I flinched. It's uncomfortable and it's real. I think the change was needed to drive the point home. I think the people saying that they are romanticizing suicide are wrong. The actual act, the aftermath, and the heartache you feel are in no way shape or form shown as something to desire.
One thing I wish the show had done was give a warning before the show started. They do give individual warnings for the last handful of episodes (I believe the first being Episode 8) but I think it would have been best to have one at the beginning. So people who are watching knew right away, and could decide then if they wanted to continue. Instead of investing eight or nine hours into the show to be conflicted on continuing on or not.
Overall, I really recommend the show if you think you can watch it without affecting your mental health. It was hard for me (and many others, how could it not be?) to watch, but I do think that it is an important one. I hope more high school students are able to watch the show and read the book. Hard hitting topics like the ones in this story are brought up often in high school but I think the show really does do it differently, and in a way that could really make a difference. Do you agree with me on my opinions on both the show or book? I saw a lot of people say they were upset that so much was changed, but I disagree. I don't think many things were changed at all. I just think we finally go the full story. Do you disagree? I'd really love to discuss it.