Posted in Adaptations, Readathons

Adaptation Review: Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why

Aha so now we enter controversial territory. I’m doing this review as part of the blog challenge for the Summer Bibib, which is to write a book review. Technically, I’m doing an adaptation review but I’ve been meaning to do this review anyway so I thought I’d just force it into this challenge. I’ll also review a bit of the book so maybe it counts? Anyway.

Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who recently committed suicide and left behind 13 tapes explaining the reasons why she did it. Right off the bat, you know it’s going to be a dark story. Trigger warnings for suicide and sexual assault so if you’re uncomfortable with any of those things, you should definitely not be reading the book or watching the show. A lot of controversy surrounds this story. People say that it doesn’t address the issues of mental health very well and that it isn’t healthy for people with suicidal thoughts because it tries to justify suicide. It also plays into the unhealthy idea that people who commit suicide are just trying to attract attention. I definitely do not dispute any of these claims. The story definitely has its problematic issues and is lacking in mental health representation, so keep that in mind when you are consuming the story.

Nevertheless, I still think this story is an extremely important one. When I read the book some 5 years ago, I remember that it made a huge impact on me. It opened my eyes to what goes on in the minds of suicidal people. I had always thought that people committed suicide after a single traumatizing event and that they did it because they couldn’t see a solution out of that single incident. Thirteen Reasons Why taught me that it doesn’t have to be a single triggering event; suicidal thoughts can arise out of small, seemingly insignificant things piling on top of one another and snowballing to the point where a person is unable to separate themselves from those small things. It made me understand those people better and have more sympathy for them instead of dismissing them as selfish and narrow-minded individuals. That’s why I think that despite its numerous faults, Thirteen Reasons Why is still an important story. It’s not so much a story for people with suicidal thoughts, it’s a story for the rest of us. It teaches us that the smallest things we say, do, or even neglect to do, can have a profound impact on someone’s life. It teaches us to be kind to others because you honestly never know what’s going on in someone’s life. Even the smallest, pettiest things can affect others on a deep level. This is the message that Jay Asher was probably trying to get across. Unfortunately, the way he chose to tell the story obscured this message.

The story and the reasons why Hannah chose to commit suicide is told to us, and the people who caused her suicide, through tapes that she sent them. An interesting and riveting way to tell the story perhaps, but it ultimately brings in more problems than it’s worth. By sending these tapes to the people she believes has wronged her, Hannah portrays herself to be manipulative and vindictive rather than sympathetic. As you watch each person’s reaction to the tapes, you realize that she is causing as much, if not more, harm to these people as they may have caused her. Instead of stopping the cycle of hatred and disrespect, she adds to it and brings these people down with her. Yes, some of them deserve it, but some of them don’t. Watching the emotional turmoil that Clay (and even Alex and Jessica) went through made me think that Hannah was only ensuring herself a spot on someone else’s Thirteen Reasons Why. It also didn’t make sense that she promised not to turn in the tapes to the authorities if everyone followed her rules. That’s not helping anyone at all, nor is it preventing future suicides. So while Thirteen Reasons Why had an important message, the way the story was told sort of minimized that and was even a bit hypocritical. A real shame.

Something that was added into the adaptation that was not present in the books was the whole lawsuit aspect. I wasn’t really a fan of that either, again because it obscured the message that the story was trying to get across and turned it into a Pretty Little Liars-esque sort of drama. Those scenes didn’t really captivate my interest and I think this part of the storyline was only there to secure a Season 2. Not a good enough reason if you ask me.

For all my complaints, I still enjoyed the adaptation. Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford really brought the characters of Clay and Hannah to life and they are definitely the shining stars of this entire adaptation. They have great chemistry together and I could actually see that Clay and Hannah could have been a legit couple instead of an unrequited thing on Clay’s part. Langford made me care about Hannah more than I ever did in the book and although I already loved Clay, Minnette’s performance makes him my all-time favorite protagonist in a contemporary. Clay is the very definition of a nice guy and maybe most people find that boring but in a story like this, he is a breath of fresh air. Young women need to know that nice guys like Clay are the kind of guys they need to be looking for. Not your typical YA bad boys or jocks like Justin or, God forbid, Bryce. We need more characters like Clay on TV or in books to tell young people what a healthy and respectful relationship should be like.

So all in all, Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why is a decent adaptation, but not without its problems. However, those problems were already in the book so I won’t fault the adaptation for that. Despite its faults though, it’s still an important story with a simple but powerful message: Don’t be an asshole, you never know how what you do or say could affect others.

Summer Bibib Reading Progress: Finished The Color Purple

Cheers and happy watching!

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