Thirteen Reasons Why Is The Gut-Wrenching Teen Drama Everyone Should Watch

Jay Asher’s book Thirteen Reason Why was adapted by Netflix into a thirteen episode series that is guaranteed to tear out the hearts of all who watch it. The series tells the story of Hannah Baker after she commits suicide. She leaves tapes dedicated to the thirteen reasons she decided to take her own life. Those reasons are several of her classmates’ actions. The instructions tell each person to listen to every tape and pass the set on to the next person. We enter the story when Clay, the eleventh person and the boy who loved her, receives the tapes. The story takes us through the tape of each character as Hannah describes why they contributed to her death.

Back in high school, this book was required reading for me. Essentially, it’s a case study in bullying and suicide prevention—how to spot the signs and how to stop it from happening. Whatever educational intentions there were, most of us had a good experience with the book. I still rave about it today. So, when Netflix announced plans for the series, they grabbed the attention of all the book lovers from way back when. But, this series and all it has to teach should reach farther than that. The topics it fearlessly approaches—like depression, suicide, grief, rape, and justice—are handled with a simultaneous sensitivity and intensity I have yet to see elsewhere.

The show really took the time to get into the story Jay Asher created. In the book, Clay powers through all the tapes in one caffeine-fueled night. The series spread the story across several weeks to further the characters experiences with one another during their days after Hannah’s death. We witness not only Clay’s grief, but the guilt of each of Hannah’s “reasons”. We see each person try to move on from what they’ve done. Spoiler alert, very few of them want to take any kind of responsibility. Victim blaming is a defining theme as those on Hannah’s tapes declare that Hannah was “dramatic” and a “liar”—sound familiar? Afraid to admit their wrongdoings, they conspire to keep their secrets between them.

It’s a show that’s hard to watch as you begin to feel like a bystander yourself. You know these kids are dealing with a horrible cocktail of guilt and grief, but all you can do is watch as they make the same mistakes Hannah made by refusing to talk about their problems. Slowly, you’ll see each character unravel until any one of them could be the next kid to kill themselves.

The series didn’t hold back the nitty-gritty details of a spiral towards suicide. Multiple episodes were graphic enough to warrant trigger warnings. There are moments that will shock you in their blatancy and are guaranteed to cause an impression. Though the book was written in 2007, the series managed to feel extremely current—as if it was written in response to the social climate of the past year. Hannah laments on social media and how it has turned us all into “stalkers”. In a tragic coincidence, a rape occurs that felt like Brock Turner all over again as even the school counselor asked if the victim had done anything to bring it on herself. It was eerie recognizing just how relevant these topics have become since the book was written ten years ago.

Thirteen Reasons Why is important. It tells a story that is relatable in the worst way. The students Hannah calls out on her tapes weren’t bad people. Most of them weren’t malicious, they oftentimes had no idea what they did was wrong. They could be anyone—you, me, a friend, a neighbor—anyone. Watching Clay’s confusion as to why he’s on the tapes in the first place makes you wonder if you could be someone else’s reason. It forces you to think about how you treat people. That’s why my high school found it important for their students to read and that’s why this series is important for everyone to watch.