You may or may not have heard of a certain little Netflix series based on a certain book by Jay Asher called 13 Reasons Why. If you haven’t heard of this series, don’t kick yourself too hard—it’s pretty obscure and definitely not being talked about anywhere at all.
Okay, no, but really, if you haven’t heard of this show, congratulations—you’re officially so far off the grid, even Ron Swanson would be impressed.
It seems these days, every book blogger, BookTuber, bookstagrammer, book reader, and casual Netflix watcher has a thing or a Baker’s dozen (shockingly, no pun intended regarding Hannah’s name…) to say about the series that has been dubbed an “instant cult classic”. As someone who read the book years ago when I was just a wee lass (okay, fine, I was about to enter college…tomato, tomahto), and someone who binged the entire series in less than two days while huddled in the corner of the couch clutching a stuffed animal (don’t judge my life), I, too, have my own collection of thoughts to share. Some of these (hell, maybe even all of them) have probably been said before…some haven’t…and some, I just need to get off my chest. Either way, go ahead and add one more notch to the tally of perspectives being shared on Selena Gomez’s latest passion project as you read the thirteen things I need to say about 13 Reasons Why. Grab a snack, y’all—it’s a long one.
1. You have resources.
Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, I am not going to “save the best for last”. I’m actually going to start out with what I feel is the number one most important thing that I need to say about 13 Reasons Why. While I feel the show was successful in quite a number of ways (we’ll get into some of them later) and while I commend them for providing “trigger warnings” at the beginning of some of the more graphic episodes, there is one thing they did not do which I felt was the biggest shortcoming of a series which they had to have known would reach such a broad audience: their failure to provide adequate information on resources for their viewers at the end (or even the beginning) of every episode.
We’ve all seen it, and you all probably know what I’m talking about. Generally, shows dealing with such sensitive information make some sort of effort to provide a number or website for viewers who are struggling with or need more information on the issues presented in the preceding program. I’ve seen several shows on MTV (including Teen Mom, Catfish, and The Real World, just to name a few) do it, and one of the most meaningful instances of this I’ve seen is in Zak Bagans’s Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel, in which, while investigating and searching for ghosts in a location rumored to be haunted by the spirit of someone who committed suicide, Bagans took the time to provide the National Suicide Hotline number and remind viewers that they do have an option to reach out to someone. So as a show that specifically deals with suicide—in fact, entirely revolves around the concept of suicide—I’m extremely disappointed that 13 Reasons Why failed to take a similar route.
That being said, whether you watched 13 Reasons Why and related to any of the issues you saw characters struggling with, or you didn’t watch it and you’re just in need of resources, here they are:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255 (24 hours a day)
For more information, including what will happen when you call the hotline, how to find a therapist, build a support network, make a safety plan, and much more, please visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org for innumerous resources.
SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Helpline: 1.800.662.4357 – Free and confidential information in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing any substance abuse and mental health issues. (24 hours a day)
For additional information about what you can do or who you can reach out to if you or someone you know is being bullied, visit stopbullying.gov
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.4673
To find out more about getting help after a sexual assault, please visit rainn.org. To find help near you, go to centers.rainn.org
And please remember this above all: you are not alone. You are never alone. I know the world can be a big, dark, sometimes downright terrifying place, but you are still not alone. There are still people out there who are veritable glimmers of light in the otherwise enveloping darkness, and I promise you, there are people who can help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the resources listed above, or to your parents, friends, teachers, counselors, friend’s parents, aunt, uncle, siblings, anyone you see fit. Between the people in your life currently and the wonderful people at the numbers listed above, someone will help you. There are options.
2. They’re not that far off the mark.
Despite some of the shortcomings I feel the show had, one of the biggest successes of 13 Reasons Why is undoubtedly the fact that it is a heartbreakingly accurate portrayal of many of the real struggles real teenagers deal with today. So many movies and TV shows marketed toward teenagers seem to zero in on the melodrama associated with love triangles, prom dates, or that ever so pesky problem of becoming a teenage vampire. But 13 Reasons Why stands head and shoulder above the rest in terms of accuracy both with the problems being featured and the way they were portrayed. Like most of us, I went to high school, and, after college, I spent a couple of years working with high schoolers and middle schoolers in various schools in my area, and based on those experiences, I can tell you that the issues in this show were real back when I was in school, and they’re real now, too. If you’re not a high schooler or it’s been a long time since you’ve been there, please don’t delude yourself into thinking that this show was melodramatic or over the top. These things definitely happen, and they happen more often than you think.
3. No one should be fangirling over Justin Foley. No one.
It has been brought to my attention via the ever-so-reliable interwebs that there is apparently a faction of young women fangirling over one Justin Foley who seem to think he is just some gorgeous, damaged young man whose behavior is excusable by the fact that he has a really shitty family or an extremely troubled past. If you are a member of the group of people who feels this way, please, I beg you, from the bottom of my heart…CHECK YOURSELF. I do not know how to make it more clear: there is absolutely no excuse for what Justin did. I do not care how bad your family is. I do not care that Bryce was nice to you when no one else was. I do not care that Bryce provided for you in a time when your family may have failed you. And for fuck’s sake, I definitely don’t care about some nonsense unspoken set of rules that you may or may not refer to as “the bro code.” I. Do. Not. Care. There is and was absolutely no excuse for Justin to let Bryce assault his girlfriend and then, furthermore, to play along with hiding it from her. Kudos to Brandon Flynn for his work in portraying this role, because he truly made me despise Justin as he was brought to life onscreen. Despise him. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Justin Foley is a literal piece of shit.
4. Some of it is really hard to watch.
Continuing on the topic of how accurate the show was, they definitely didn’t shy away from showing anything (an oft-debated topic across the book, television, and mental health community, which I’ll chime in on later). Aside from the actual suicide scene, there was a lot in the show that was extremely difficult to watch, including—but not limited to—the portrayals of assault, the victims’ reactions to the assaults, Hannah’s parents’ reactions to her death, and Jeff’s car accident. I felt compelled to cover my eyes during this show more times than I do while watching the Saw movies, and I think that speaks volumes about its successes and accuracy. At one point, my husband came home from work while I was in the midst of binging the second half of the episodes, saw me huddled on the couch and, based off my expression and posture, asked, “Are you watching a scary movie?” Intending to be a bit of a smartass, I answered, “No. This is way scarier than any horror movie.” Only once the words were out of my mouth did I realize how horrifyingly true they are.
5. I admit it–sometimes I wanted to shake Hannah.
Although I feel deeply for Hannah Baker, both in the book and in the show, I’d be a liar if I told you I supported everything she did. There were moments throughout my reading of the book and my viewing of the show that I wanted to literally reach through the page or the screen, grab Hannah by her shoulders, shake her vehemently and shout, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING????” And I know I’m not alone in this.
It’s normal for people struggling with issues to feel like they are completely alone, but especially in the show, it seemed that quite a few people made it evident to Hannah that she was not. My heart shattered for her parents when they discovered what they did, because it was clear they loved Hannah very much, and I’m positive they would have been there for her if she had only tried to reach out to them. I know—trust me, I know—that it’s exceedingly difficult to ask for help, but I was appalled that Hannah had the courage to try to get help from her guidance counselor, but not from her own parents. Not everyone has a loving, close relationship with their parents, but what was the worst Hannah’s parents really did here? They were busy, yes. They were tired, yes. They’re adults. That’s adult life. That doesn’t mean they don’t love and want the best for their daughter. This, coupled with Hannah’s apparent expectation of Clay to love her back to happiness, and some of her other—let’s just say it—somewhat selfish behavior was extremely frustrating at times. It was difficult to watch all the opportunities coming Hannah’s way while knowing the ultimate outcome.
And I’ll take this opportunity in the discussion to remind you one more time—you always have options. You are never alone. If only someone would have made that more clear to Hannah.
6. Clay didn’t belong on the tapes.
Hannah said it herself. Clay didn’t belong on the tapes. Both in the book and in the show, it’s pretty obvious that the only reason Clay is on the tapes is so that we can get an insider point of view—someone who has to listen to the tapes, so that we can listen to the tapes—without actually having to have our narrator be a villain. But think about it—how interesting would it have been if our narrator had been more of a villain? If our narrator had been someone who did do something wrong—something other than “not loving enough”. Think about what it would have been like, for example, to have Alex as our narrator: someone who did something wrong, but, through the course of the tapes, realizes their wrongdoings. It would have been an interesting progression to watch our narrator go from trying to justify their actions, to figuring out what they did, to trying to live with that and learn from it. But Clay…Clay was just an innocent at the heart of it all.
7. I really don’t think the cut on Clay’s head was necessary.
I’m saying it, y’all. The forehead cut was totally over the top. I’ve heard a ridiculous number of people contribute to the discussion with things like, “But the cut really helped me know which scenes were flashbacks and which ones were in present day.” You know what else is a really easy way to tell if it’s a flashback or not? By whether or not Hannah is alive. But aside from that obvious difference, I know I’m not the only one who noticed that the colors/filter were completely different between the flashbacks and the present day, with the flashbacks taking on more of a yellow-y, bright, warm look, and present day being depressingly blue and cold. That distinction alone was one of the main things that makes me consider the series a success. The cinematography was downright beautiful.
On top of the fact that the cut wasn’t necessary to help me distinguish between present and past, it was also pretty distracting. I’m by no means a professional makeup artist, so please don’t think I’m just trying to be catty, but I didn’t even think it was particularly well done. Sometimes I found myself staring at it and thinking, “Is that…oozing? Why isn’t it getting any better? Is it mutating? Should they have blended the edges better?” I felt a little bit like the makeup artist watched literally one YouTube tutorial from Glam & Gore and then rolled up to the gig like, “Yeah, I’ve done tons of special effects makeup before! I can make it look super realistic!”
Maybe just hire Mykie herself next time, y’all. I like my characters’ bloody facial wounds to add to the story, not distract me.
9. Okay, seriously how do these high schoolers have so many tattoos?
I know, I know. “Oh, I’m in high school, and I have a tattoo.” “Tons of kids at my school have tattoos.” “My friend has a tattoo and blah, blah, BLAH.” We get it. There’s an exception to every rule and all that, but here’s the thing: yes, every school has a few kids who have a few tattoos. When I was in high school, it was certainly not unheard of. There’s always a handful of A) extremely lenient parents, B) disreputable shops who couldn’t give two shits how old you are, and C) friends who manage to acquire a tattoo machine from somewhere and, with absolutely no experience or education the matter, offer to lay down some ink at their kitchen table after a few too many cheap vodka shots on a Friday night. (I won’t judge. We’ve all been there. …What? We all haven’t? Oh, okay, moving on, then….)
But aside from some of the obviously-not-high-school physiques being displayed in this show, the sheer number and quality of tattoos being sported by these people is the other reason it was, at times, hard to buy them as high schoolers. We’re not talking a smattering of stars here and a stray Playboy bunny there. These kids are INKED. I mean, Justin Foley’s chest piece? Tony’s photorealistic wolf? Skye’s—well, Skye’s whole body? Come on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love body modifications—both getting them and seeing them—but I saw a few too many of them in this show for it to be believable. Not only am I baffled at the fact that this many kids managed to get this many tattoos, I’m also not buying that this school has no dress code whatsoever. Sure, they seem pretty lax about a lot of things, but in my experience, schools are getting even stricter with dress codes and appearance policies. The whole concept seems wildly unrealistic.
But, hey, if you do go to a school that’s this accepting of body modifications and self-expression, more power to you. You’re luckier than I was while I was slogging through those four years.
9. That’s not Principal Bolan.
That’s Vaughn du Clark, self-serving evil mastermind and CEO of Max Rager.
I just can’t see him as anyone else now. #sorrynotsorry
10. Tony is a badass.
Tony was more or less just a vehicle of delivery in the book—not quite a bystander, but not a very active participant either. The Keeper of the Tapes. The Protector of the Secrets.
But I was absolutely thrilled with the development and growth that Tony saw as he was brought to the screen. Generally, like most hardcore book enthusiasts, I don’t want to see a lot of changes to my favorite characters, but in this case, it was nice to see someone who I liked so much getting so much more of a personality and a larger role to play. Tony is wise beyond his years, introspective, insightful, handsome, has great hair, and just randomly goes rock climbing/soul searching in his free time. Do you know anyone else this badass?
I’ll even forgive him for driving my second least favorite kind of car.
11. There’s a lot more going on onscreen.
For those of you who have never read the book (for shame!), you might not realize the sheer number of things that were added for the sake of the Netflix series. I imagine not only was it necessary in order to create a full series (rather than a mini-series or a movie, which to be honest, I might have preferred), but the creators also wanted to explore a lot of other avenues that weren’t necessarily shown in the book. In the book, Clay listens to all the tapes in one night (none of this stalling that was more excruciating for the viewer than it was for the characters), we don’t get nearly as much insight into each separate individual’s tape and their actions and the way they relate to each other, and there’s definitely no open-ended cliffhangers making us wonder what the hell is going on with Alex and Tyler.
But the most notable addition to the series that isn’t in the books is the entire concept of the lawsuit Hannah’s parents pursue in order to try to find justice for the individuals that drove their daughter to this point. This is an entirely new layer to add to the already complicated concept of leaving behind a suicide note in the form of a series of cassette tapes. The book came out back in 2007, which, despite being only ten years ago, was a very different time. Back in those days, lawsuits prosecuting bullies, schools, and others who may have had a hand in convincing a child to commit suicide were far less common than they are now. This adds another very real—and not often portrayed—aspect to 13 Reasons Why that we didn’t get to see in the original book format.
12. I’m still on the fence about the fact that they actually showed Hannah’s suicide.
And it’s not just that the entire scene was so painful to watch (which it was). As soon as I saw it, I started having a mental and emotional conflict. On one hand, I wanted to applaud them for not shying away from it and showing how horrible and gruesome it actually is…but on the other hand, I thought, did you just put out a detailed, easily accessible guide for how to commit suicide? Sure, if people want to do it, they’re going to figure out how to do it, but I have to admit, I felt a little icky about the fact that there was such a detailed portrayal of all the steps to this particular method of suicide on a platform that is so easily accessible to teenagers, and being watched by a lot of people who are probably going through similar struggles and could be easily influenced by such imagery. I’ve heard there are a lot of mental health studies that indicate that showing a graphic depiction of suicide is actually more harmful than deterring, but even more so than that is the fact that although the act itself was visually painful, the final shot still kind of romanticized the whole concept of a suicide a bit too much for my liking. The part where Tony talks about the EMTs grabbing the body bag and tossing it is, to me, a more powerful image of the aftermath than panning out to show a beautiful young woman floating in a bathtub of blood. Yes, that sounds gruesome, but to a culture that already romanticizes suicide, that image doesn’t exactly help. In the book, Hannah actually doesn’t commit suicide by slitting her wrists, but instead overdoses on pills. This is mentioned only briefly in the book, as the focus in the book is more on the tapes and the reasons she committed suicide than the act itself. Would this have been a better, less romanticized portrayal? Honestly, I don’t know. But either way, even weeks after having watched the show, I’m still on the fence about the fact that they showed Hannah’s suicide. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.
13. We can’t forget the source material.
As a writer and a hardcore book enthusiast (and that may be an understatement), I’m a big advocate for the fact that we can’t forget the source material. Yes, 13 Reasons Why the Netflix series was an instant classic. Yes, it broke ground in some ways. But let us not forget that without 13 Reasons Why the book, there would be no 13 Reasons Why the show. So thank you to Jay Asher, who wrote a wonderful novel that inspired so much discussion, reached so many people, and touched hearts all around the world. Without Jay Asher’s hard work, much of this would not have been possible. And whether we agree or disagree on certain aspects of the book and the show, we’re talking—and maybe that’s what’s most important.
Do you have anything you need to say about 13 Reasons Why? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to talk. <3