Friday morning, I woke up feeling exceptionally horrible. I felt a sore throat coming on for a few days, but this was like getting hit by a semi. My nose felt like a hose, my throat was almost completely closed and my whole body felt weak. I didn’t want to get up to go to my 9am class and everything thereafter, but then I got a reminder notification on my phone: “13 reasons why today.”
13 Reasons Why is a young adult novel written by Jay Asher back in 2007. It also happens to be the newest book-to-Netflix series rendition to hit the internet. I read the book when I was in middle school and was so excited when I saw the first trailer, but thought it would be a movie rather than an entire 13 episode series. Once I found out that it would be spread over 13 hours of screen-time, I wondered how this could have been carried out considering the book took place in the span of one night. I was not disappointed.
The story follows a junior in high school, Clay, as he listens to a series of 13 cassette tapes that were dropped at his doorstep after the love of his life, Hannah, committed suicide. Hannah recorded the thirteen reasons why she made the decision to end her life and the tapes are being passed on to each of the people mentioned in them. We are taken on a huge and terrifying emotional rollercoaster with Clay and the rest of the Liberty High gang as they all try to process what has been done and bear witness to all of their downward spirals, whether big or small. And in the end, we are left gripping for far more than the book every left us with, bringing about rumors of a second season. Please keep in mind that there will be SPOILER ALERTS in this article.
Here are a few reasons why you need to see all thirteen episodes of 13 Reasons Why, whether you spread out the episodes over several weeks or watch them all in one day like I did:
1. They do not gloss over the hard parts. They bring them to light.
Suicide and sexual assault are two very heavy issues that people have tried to bring to the surface and talk about for years now. Not only is this entire series about a 17 year old’s suicide, it also involves two incidences of sexual assault that are the most important catalysts in the second half of the episodes. We see students putting up posters about suicide prevention in the days following Hannah’s death and students tearing them down right after. This brings up a conversation about how to spread awareness without glorifying or making it the focal point of every single day thereafter. We see the toll that it took on Hannah’s parents and the burden it caused to all of those mentioned in the tapes. We also see the suicide happen - all of the gore with none of the horror-movie factor. The producers (Selena Gomez included) could have stuck with the book’s method of overdosing on pills and included a scene of Hannah peacefully falling asleep, but they didn’t. They chose to capture the raw pain in the moment of taking one’s own life instead of copping out and I respect them for that.
There are two incidences of rape mentioned in the tapes that ultimately contributed to Hannah’s decision, one that happened to her and one that happened to her former friend Jessica. Both of these acts were given their time on the screen and not just merely mentioned or just shown in quick bits and pieces. From what the audience saw, there was no ambiguity about whether or not these incidences were rape; they were undoubtedly so. We were also presented with how a survivor of sexual assault tries to cope with the reality of what happened and I’ve never felt so heartbroken for a TV character before Jessica. I believe that the series does justice for those who have gone through terrible events like these in their lives while also presenting those who haven’t a more realistic perspective than other shows and movies have before. 13 Reasons Why doesn’t shy away from all that is ugly in the lives of the characters, it embraces them.
2. The acting was wonderful.
The show features actors that are able to embody their characters in honest ways. Hannah wasn’t depicted as a moody, angsty teen that was calling for attention. She was depicted as a real human being, which is hard to do when the storyline yearns for someone who presents themself more like Skye in the series, all dressed in black and emotionless when confronted. Clay was able to embody the spirit of a socially awkward kid that transforms into somewhat of an unhinged monster out for revenge. However, my (unpopular) choice for favorite character has to be Justin Folly. No matter the fact that he shows up twice on Hannah’s tapes, he is a troubled and misunderstood jock that had all promises of a future and no future all at once. I appreciated how they put in the scenes of his home life and his interactions with Jessica were heart wrenchingly powerful, especially towards the end of the series. And if there is a second season on the horizon, I would hope to see Justin’s character evolve and grow into the honorable man that I know (hope) he can be.
3. It is a reminder that there are people in our lives that care.
Hannah admittedly was pushing everyone away in her life. Clay wanted to help and wanted to understand, but because of his lack of experience and awkwardness, he was simply unable. However, he made it his mission to bring the tapes to light and make sure that Hannah’s suicide was not unfought for. Sheri, even though what she did was wrong, worked every day afterward to try and fix a part of her mistake. She cared about the old man that she wronged and gives herself up to the police in the end, owning up to her mistake. That’s more than the other characters did after they committed their acts and this proves that she is actually a caring young girl. Hannah’s parents, however stressed they were during her last days, cared for their daughter unwaveringly and fought as hard as they could to get justice even when they had no evidence or hope to back up their lawsuit. They stuck to their guns and eventually the tapes were brought to them, and the rest we are left to wonder about.
4. It is also a reminder that there are people in our lives who don’t.
I cannot express how much hatred I have towards Bryce. Courtney and Marcus deserve their own dagger eyes as well, but Bryce is the epitome of all things evil in the world. And the saddest truth is that Bryces exist in the real world, in every city and on every campus, high school or college. I guess the only thing that the rest of us can do is to try and recognize the Bryces in life when they show their true selves and steer clear of the trouble they can cause, if possible. And once they’ve done their damage, we should channel more of Clay and less of the Liberty High gang in an attempt to bring justice to the Bryces of the world.
Courtney and Marcus are the two that I relate to the most but can’t stand at the same time. As top-performing students in the junior class, they have pristine reputations to uphold and even though their contribution to Hannah’s decision seems a lot less impacting than others, they make it seem like their entire lives would be ruined if the tapes come out. I resonate with them because I was one of those high performing high schoolers that was heavily concerned with reputation and appearances for a brighter future, but I can’t be okay with how these two handled the situation they found themselves in. They showed that they truly cared for no one but themselves and this is the sad truth of many young people under extreme pressure to be perfect.
5. It shows us that the little things do matter.
Some of the reasons Hannah gave in the tapes seem a lot more minor than others, but nonetheless contributed to her ultimate fate. One of the stories that stands out to me the most concerning this theme is Zach’s tape. The whole classroom compliment bags is an idea that I both love and hate at the same time because it can promote good will towards classmates but can also promote shallow confidence and issues that I won’t get into. However, Hannah’s compliment bag was a sacred consistency in her tumultuous life and Zach took that away from her. Those little messages were all that kept her spirits up in that time. This reminds the audience to really let loved ones know how much they mean to us as often as possible before the worst happens and to extend as many valid complements as possible to those around us. We can never know when one small gesture can brighten someone’s entire day as it did for Hannah until even those little things were taken from her.
6. It is an effort to bridge the generational gap.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for adults, parents, and educators to watch this series. There is such a gap between the millennial teenage experience and their parents’ experiences that can be detrimental in understanding what their children are going through everyday in school. Cyberbullying has flowered into a high school experience that can’t be escaped and is incredibly challenging to end. Without having their parents hardwired to the reality of their experience, students these days can feel completely alone even at home. Many students may not even want to discuss these issues with their parents because they just won’t get it. This series can be used in an effort to bridge this generational gap that can hopefully end up saving lives and this is ultimately one of the producers’ goals.
7. Even though high school was a few years ago, college is not an escape from these issues. In some ways, they can be worse.
A lot of people say college is way better than high school and in many ways, it is. But if a person is struggling, it can be much, much harder to find the support that they need removed from the sheltered high school experience. Resources need to be sought after in college and it is very easy to find yourself utterly alone far too often. Especially for those of us that decided to move away for college, we have a chance to be whoever we want and act that way too. This power in our own identity needs to be harnessed in the right ways because if not, we can find ourselves in a troubled mindset and without a safety net. Hannah had many chances to get help for her issues, but ultimately chose to go anyway. A lot of college students don’t have those chances presented so blatantly to them and this is why it is so important to continue the efforts I already see on campus to raise awareness for and offer help to those affected by mental illness, sexual assault, substance abuse and cyberbullying. These demons within our experiences are far too real to ignore and 13 Reasons Why does a great job of highlighting the worst demons teenagers and young adults face in today’s cruel society without sacrificing the truth.