Why Netflix's "13 Reasons Why" Works & Falls Short (SPOILERS)
Please don't read this review unless you have read Thirteen Reasons Why or have watched the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. If you don't care about spoilers, feel free to keep reading.
A little backstory about my experience with the book and show:
I read Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why a couple years ago. Here's my Goodreads review:
I really wanted to like this book, since so many have. I wasn't convinced of the plot up until the end where everything fell into place and made sense. I wasn't drawn into the story as much as I wanted to be.
I might have been harsh, but reading it at the time, I felt it deserved its 2 out of 5 star rating I gave it. I ended up giving the book to another book-lover friend of mine, or else I'd go back and re-read it after having binged the show in two days.
The plot follows Clay Jensen, a 17 year-old who receives a set of cassette tapes numbered from 1 to 13. They were given to him anonymously and each tapes reveals a reason why his classmate (& almost-love), Hannah Baker ended her life. Each person involved is given directions to listen to the tapes and then pass them onto the next person in line.
Readers and viewers are taken on a convoluted journey through high school as told through stereotypical, cruel and at times downright unrealistic characters.
The Reasons Why Hannah Baker Killed Herself (based on the show):
Justin Foley (Hannah's first boyfriend). He was her first kiss. He took a picture of her going down a slide and unfortunately she was wearing a skirt, so you can imagine he captured her underwear in the picture. His jock buddies sent the image around to the whole class via group text. He also never corrected anyone when they asked if they hooked up in the park. The beginning of Hannah's slut-shaming started with Tyler. They only kissed.
- Jessica Davis (Hannah's former friend). Jessica is the classic, good girl who guys want to date and girls want to be friends with. She's popular, kind and easily manipulated by her fears and others.
- Alex Standall (Former friend of Jessica and Hannah). Alex dated Jessica then tried to date Hannah while still with Jessica. He lied about breaking up with Jessica. He submitted Hannah's name for "Best Ass" in the sophomore class and Jessica's as "Worst Ass," hoping to spark a reaction from Hannah. His plan backfired and Jessica ended up thinking Hannah put him up to it.
- Tyler Down (Hannah's Stalker). Quiet kid who takes pictures for the school's yearbook. Hannah saw a camera flash outside her bedroom window on a few occasions and assumed someone was stalking her. During a sleepover, she and Courtney discovered Tyler was the one stalking Hannah.
- Courtney Crimson (A mean girl who's in the closet). Hannah and Courtney had a sleepover, both drank too much, then Courtney dared Hannah to kiss her. She did. Tyler snapped a photo and the whole class more or less found out. She spreads a nasty rumor about Hannah being into three-ways and fueled the slut-shaming fire.
- Marcus Cole (Student Body President). Marcus asked Hannah out on Valentine's Day, showed up an hour late to their date, then tried to grope her in plain sight of restaurant patrons and some jocks, including…
- Zach Dempsey (Insecure jock). One of those said jocks. He asked Hannah out, probably just to mess with her, but who knows. She rejected him, he'd never been rejected before, so he retaliated and stole her compliments from her compliments bag (a rather juvenile project their communication class partook in). Their peers were encouraged to write anonymous compliments to each other and put them in a brown paper bag with their names on it.
- Ryan Shaver (Wannabe journalist). Ryan pretended to be Hannah's friend and they attended a poetry group together where he convinced her to write a heart-felt poem, which he then stole and published (against her permission) in the school's newspaper (founded and created by him).
- Justin Foley (Again). At a summer party at Jessica's, Hannah was hiding in Jessica's bedroom when Ryan and Jessica stumbled on in. Ryan failed to protect Jessica (they were dating at the time) from Bryce. Jessica was unconscious and Justin let Bryce rape her. Justin and Bryce were also drunk, but Justin sat helplessly and hopelessly outside her room while Bryce did what he did. Hannah watched in horror and didn't say anything.
- Sheri (Good girl with a heavy secret). Sheri drove a drunk Hannah home the night of the party, but on the way, ran over a wooden stop sign and failed to call the police immediately. Later on, a classmate of theirs died when he ran the fallen stop sign and collided with an old man.
- Clay Jensen (Hannah's only true friend). Clay failed to man up and ask Hannah out when they both clearly were attracted to each other. His fault was, he didn't love her in time, or rather, he didn't tell her how he felt about her, and Hannah let herself believe all guys were the same even though deep down she knew Clay was different.
- Bryce (Rich, jock turned rapist). Hannah found herself at another party, this time at Bryce's house. She got into the hot tub with Jessica and friends, but was soon left alone until Bryce came along. Bryce raped Hannah. She struggled at first, but he overpowered her, and she was left feeling numb and gone from reality.
- Mr. Porter (School guidance counselor). Hannah gave herself one more chance to stay alive. She met with Mr. Porter and told him she was assaulted, sexually. She also told him that she felt lost and wanted it all to end/be over. Mr. Porter was unable to help her because she wouldn't reveal her attacker's identity and didn't want to press charges. He also did not contact her parents about her suicidal thoughts.
Issues With The Plot & Characters (in no particular order):
- Teenagers are not that intentionally cruel. The show crams every stereotype into the characters. Jocks. Cheerleaders. Populars. Outcasts. Gays and Lesbians. Rich. Poor. Courtney is especially conflicting as a character. Her fathers struggled as a gay couple, yet she felt like she'd disappoint them and bring more strife to their family if she came out? Like my friend said, "it's the 21st century," people are much more accepting and less ignorant than 30 years ago. Also let's talk about how all the popular kids had a massive group chat that included the entire grade. That is definitely not realistic, nor probable. Who would take the time to create a group chat with that many individuals? Unless their class is made up of 30 kids. The last episode shows Tyler hiding guns and weapons away insinuating he will become a shooter because he was a target of bullying. It's always the quiet ones.
- Portrayal of bullying. I attended two different high schools in two different communities. Neither had "hot or not" lists ranking girls or guys for that matter. The bathroom stalls didn't have graffiti written on them. The administration cared a hell of a lot more than poor Mr. Porter. I'm not saying my high school experience in the only experience, but 13 Reasons Why blows it out of proportion. I do not underestimate the severity of bullying, but I was acutely aware of all my peers and I never witnessed such heinous bullying like that in the show. No one was pantsed in the halls. No one grabbed girls' asses without their permission. Bullying nowadays is done more online, from what I've seen and experienced. The show exemplifies the bullying to make a statement, and yes statements are made. You don't know what others are going through. You shouldn't judge people because they're different from you. You should speak and act kindly.
- Additional unrealistic points.
- Clay would have listened to those tapes in one night (he does in the book), but to draw out the show, he takes his sweet time.
- Mr. Porter would have told Hannah's parents about her suicidal thoughts. That's his job as a counselor at school. If he feels like student is a danger to himself or others, he has a right to tell the parents and other adults concerned.
- No high school class would have compliment bags in their classrooms. That is very elementary school-related and just not something a high school teacher would spend time implementing in the classrooms. Also, the teacher of that communication class, who asked students to submit anonymous comments, would have listened to Hannah's plea instead of shaking it off as someone seeking attention.
Last Thoughts: None of my commentary is meant to upset anyone. 13 Reasons Why is a work of fiction. I worry people will have misconceptions about high school and teenagers in general altering watching this show. The show touches on good points and Hannah is a very relatable character. The acting is some of the best I've seen when it comes to young adult drama. I commend Selena Gomez for pushing to get this show created because I think the story is important and bullying is a conversation that should be had, often. I wish the characters were more realistic in their actions, but it's fiction and that's okay. People should watch this with a grain of salt, but they should watch it and remember that bullying happens, it's nearly impossible to stop, but people need to be aware that it happens.
"Have courage and be kind."