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When I first saw Thirteen Reasons Why available to watch on Netflix, I thought to myself, “Oh, another one of those teen shows about drama in high school that’s probably based on a Young Adult novel.” It turned out that I was correct in my suspicions, but, after watching the first episode, I had plunged into something much bigger and more emotional than I had expected. I ordered the book on Amazon because I needed to delve deeper into the story. I have since finished both the Netflix series and the novel, and I realized that I needed to write down my thoughts in something more detailed than a simple Facebook post. So many emotions ran through me, as I’m sure happened with others that may have watched or read Thirteen Reasons Why. Some people stayed away from it and refused to watch it because the subject matter can be triggering. Some people think that it should never have been made into a TV show. Some people loved it and felt that it should be required viewing for adolescents. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what I think. And to be honest, it’s a mixture of both good and bad reactions. I will be comparing the show to the original novel. Be warned in advance, there will be spoilers.
Anything that explores high school, bullying, teen suicide, and the like naturally brings out my own memories of the hell that was high school. I was the intelligent over-achiever that was involved in everything, especially the arts. French Club president, section leader and drum major in marching band, National Honor Society, you name it, and I was involved in it. Except the popular party scene. I was never the person they would invite out to parties where underage drinking abounded. I was teased and called “Little Miss Perfect” or “Teacher’s Pet.” I was teased and mocked because of my weight and the fact that I had large breasts. Every time I had the courage to tell a boy that I liked him, I would experience nothing but laughter and rejection. At one point during my senior year, I had a major manic-depressive episode and was hospitalized for over a week. I remember the rumors that spread like wildfire, the whispers behind my back, the “friends” I had that showed their true colors and proved that they really weren’t friends at all. My first thoughts of suicide began at age 14, and for the next 8 years they would slip back in my mind at various points of depression and mental suffering. I remember that one morning the principal came on the loudspeaker to announce that a student had passed away. I believe it was suicide. I didn’t know her personally, and no one really reacted that they cared that she was gone. Her death seemed less important to them than the other students who had perished in a car accident. And looking back, it makes me sick that no one had helped her see that she did matter and was loved and important.
Now let’s return to the land of fiction where Thirteen Reasons Why explores a high school in the aftermath of a student’s suicide. A student whose reputation had been blown out of proportion with vicious rumors of her alleged promiscuity. A teenage girl that was tormented by the bullying of others to the point where she decided to take her life. But before she did, she recorded tapes naming names and denouncing those who she felt ruined her life and were thus responsible for her death. First of all, while I think it’s important that we call out bullies and show them how their behavior is destructive, Hannah Baker’s approach to send every person that affected her life in a negative way tapes where she completely destroys their character with her words and accusations is straight up malicious and extreme. I can understand leaving a note, but the way she spoke and laid bare her feelings and painted the other students made me feel even more angry but also sad for them. Instead of being approached and corrected, they are hit with guilt as Hannah blames them for her death. And in all honesty, while others can push someone to feel as if they should take their life, the decision to kill one’s self is someone’s personal choice. Yes, the bullies were horrible, but Hannah chose to take her own life in the end. Placing the blame on anyone else is just cruel. Imagine if you learned that someone said you were responsible for their death after the fact. The guilt would haunt you for the rest of your life. Suicide just passes the pain onto someone else.
I’m also disappointed that mental illness and depression were not brought up. Feeling sad and empty were just passing thoughts and emotions. It was Hannah’s depression that led to her death; that was the true cause. Her efforts to seek advice and help from the counselor showed how little we are prepared to handle speaking with someone with their feet dangling over the edge. It may have been the author’s decision on his portrayal of the counselor, but I felt that he was more concerned about administrative consequences of Hannah saying that she had been raped than actively trying to help her find emotional relief and solace. It was as if he couldn’t read the signs she was showing. I was very frustrated at that. The counselor should have been properly trained and educated to be able to see the signs of severe depression. Maybe she would not have taken her life if she had received the proper help and care that she needed.
The series really glorified the act of suicide, I felt. The novel focused more on the emotional response of Clay as he listened to Hannah’s tapes and processed his own feelings of anger, guilt, and loss. The show almost made it seem like it was a “cool” thing to do, to take your own life, which I find horrible to promote. How many impressionable teenagers may have watched the show and thought to themselves that maybe killing themselves would be the best way to escape the pain. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I heard that there was a rise in suicides after the show was released, as if it inspired adolescents to go the same route. I hope that was just a rumor. In the book, Hannah committed suicide by swallowing pills. In the Netflix series, she slit her wrists in a bathtub and actually showed the act. The writers probably chose to change the method to be something more dramatic and difficult to watch for the shock factor. Was it really necessary to show the scene in detail? I’m not so sure. Again, it’s showing potentially impressionable young teens how to go about carrying it out. I don’t think that’s really a good idea.
However, the bullying Hannah endured was very important to portray. It really captured the essence of high school life and the suffering some students face. And the fact that this show has become so popular has hopefully shown how not to behave. It’s a wake-up call for some to explain how others can interpret and process taunts and teasing. Calling someone names, spreading lies and gossip just to paint another in a worse light than yourself is just projecting your insecurities onto someone else. Why is it really necessary to be rude and horrible to each other? Wouldn’t life be better and less cruel if we stopped tearing each other down? Take some time to think about how another person may interpret your words. And taunts last forever. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words cut deeper. They are planted in the mind of the person suffering and grow into painful fruit that rot their thoughts. It’s already difficult to love one’s self; replaying hurtful words and acts make it virtually impossible to find that inner love.
I do recommend reading the book and watching the series. If you’re a parent worried about your teenager watching it, take some time to watch it yourself and be prepared to discuss it with them. Help them understand the importance of the impact bullying has on others, and also stress the fact that you love them. Explain that you are always there to listen and that if they ever feel unable to continue on that you will be there to get them the help they need. And if they make mistakes, forgive them. Let them know that hope always remains. Life and love can continue in full force towards a brighter future.

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