A Reflection on "13 Reasons Why "

Jennifer is working for mindyourmind as a Research Associate, she is here on a student placement from Western University in London, ON. As a future librarian she is passionate about connecting people to information and developing resources that help in times of need. Outside of work she loves reading, rugby, and watching terrible movies with her friends.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about a book called Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, the now famous Netflix series based on the book had just been released and was gaining traction online. The story presented in the novel was one that had made a huge impact on me and I had always expected it to make it onto screen at some point. I have been slowly working my way through the series over the past couple of weeks, I didn’t think I could handle binge watching it because of the topics involved. I finished watching the show last night and I figured I would throw my opinion on it into the mix.  It seems that most people who see it agree that it pushed some boundaries and the goals of the show are admirable however public opinion is split over how appropriately and effectively that message came across.

The big thing that struck me was how much was added in for the show. The original story was just Clay listening to all 13 tapes in one night, following Hannah’s story around town and his internal reflections of the impact that the tapes have on him. When you see how much they added in, it’s hard not to notice the things that they choose not to add. The possibility of Hannah suffering from mental illness was suggested in the book however that topic took a backseat to the bullying storyline. In the book that worked, it was a very focused story that looked specifically at bullying. The author clearly wanted to look at a specific topic and to add in discussion on mental illness would have complicated the storyline and required a longer novel. That may sound like a minor thing but 10 years ago it was rare to come across a YA novel over 300 pages, publishing houses wanted to keep the books short and my copy is just over 300 pages so it was already pushing the length limit. The story was expanded so much for the show to keep it going over 13 episodes that there was more than enough time to talk to mental illness concerns and yet it isn’t really mentioned. There are a couple of hints in the final couple of episodes that she may be sick but it is a minor detail which could be easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. Yes portraying mental illness is tricky and this is a show about bullying but I’m surprised that they choose not to add this discussion into the mix when they were already building entirely new plot lines in other areas of the story.

The other thing that struck me last night was that ending. On the one hand I want to admire them for not panning away and letting the viewers imagination fill in the blanks, even though they have already shown so much on this show I did not expect them to show her final moments in that detail. The scene did not make it look romantic or peaceful in anyway and the acting of the lead actress and the two playing her parents was very impressive. The thing that concerns me about this end is that I, a person who is currently very emotionally stable and has no history of suicidal thoughts, found this incredibly upsetting and I had to walk away for a few minutes. I can’t even begin to imagine how damaging and upsetting this scene could be for someone who is currently battling with mental illness or is closely connected to this type of event. There is a warning that runs before the beginning of the episode that there are disturbing images but I think that scene could be extremely triggering for some people. This is a topic that needs to talked about, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, however it is a triggering topic and needs to be handled with care and I’m concerned this scene could do more damage than it does good.

The show and the book that sparked it are impressive in their message, that the things that we say and do to people can have long term impacts on them and it’s not a specific one thing that can trigger an event but potentially a lot of little things that individually don’t look like much at all. If nothing else this show has started a conversation which can hopefully raise awareness on these issues. The open ended finale of the show and the unresolved issues for several storylines are concerning for me and many others. There are some rumors online that there might be a second season in the works which may wrap up these concerns but I think it was irresponsible to leave so much open at the end of this and not give closure to the story, another example of Hollywood thinking with its cheque book instead of its conscience if that is true. Either way it has definitely had the impact that it was looking for and has become a lightening rod of conversation online.