Thirteen Reasons Why (book and show)

I got things to say and feels to feel so let’s get started. First, let me say that Thirteen Reasons Why is one of my favorite books of all time. In the way of re-reads, it even rivals the Harry Potter books. I picked this book up on a whim when I was in high school. I read the synopsis in my school library and I thought it would help me a lot. High school is also when my thoughts shifted from, “I need to leave South Carolina” to “I should kill myself.” I know some kids with mental health issues probably shouldn’t read books about suicide, but I was hoping that I would find something about loss and hurt. Thirteen Reasons Why did that for me. It was a book I needed in that time of my life, and it continues to be a book that I refer to even as an adult. When I found out one of my favorite books was going to be turned into a TV show, I was cautiously hopeful. Then I saw the trailer and my heart sunk. It looked like this big mystery and it didn’t feel like the book I fell in love with. Sure, there is some mystery involving all of the people on the tapes and how they interconnected, but the trailer for the show made it sound like most of these people were small and there was one major person who really caused Hannah to kill herself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to shit on the show. After the first couple of episodes, I realized I was enjoying it far more than I expected to. It’s actually a fairly decent show. Of course, there are some positives and negatives. Yes, they do involve the changes that were made but, out of respect for the author, this book, and everyone involved with the show, I’m going to try to be fair. So, here are my thoughts about Thirteen Reasons Why, the book and the show.
In standard Kim fashion, I’m going to hit some of the characters. I’m not going to talk about every character in the story. Just the ones that impacted me the most. Either good impact or bad. First, there’s Clay. I LOVED Clay in the book. He is the kid you can’t help but like because he seems so kind and aware. Don’t start with the, “If he was aware then he would have known Hannah wanted to kill herself.” This wasn’t a book about people trying to save a girl. She was already gone before the book started. I still enjoyed Clay in the show. The fact that he was a nerd made my heart happy. I didn’t really like how aggressive he got at certain points. There was a part with Skye where he grabbed her arm and exposed her self-harm scars. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that to a person. Another thing I didn’t like about Clay in the show was when his parents brought up medication to him. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with anyone taking medication. Clay in the books wasn’t on any sort of drugs. Yes, it’s hard to tell when the book takes place over the span of a single night, but I like to think Clay was a pretty well put together person. The drugs made me sad because it seemed like there was something deeply wrong with Clay and it played into the myth of “the only person who can love someone mentally ill is another ill person.”  As a teen, I hung out with a lot of ill people so it wouldn’t have bothered me as much back then, but my perspective as an adult is vastly different. I’m blessed enough to have made friends who are well and loving. They are patient and kind. They do not look at me and see my disorders. They just see me. Maybe Jay intended Clay to have some dark secrets about his own mental health. I just don’t see Clay with those kinds of struggles.
I really liked Tony in the book. I thought he was an interesting secondary character with his own share of secrets. In the show, Tony immediately became my favorite character. He is suave, but honest. He is kind, but reserved. His interactions with Clay are humorous and heartfelt. I loved him. I also loved that he is gay, but it isn’t a big deal. It’s just part of Tony and he even says that everyone knows he’s gay. It isn’t some weird secret Tony has to wrestle with. He’s comfortable with himself. He did say something that bothered me. When his boyfriend confronted him about the phrase “my friend” versus “my boyfriend,” Tony said Ryan called him “my boyfriend” and he wasn’t comfortable with the possessive tone. But “my friend” also has that possession aspect. If anything, the wording should have been “a friend.” Correct me if my hearing is off and they did actually use “a friend.” It’s such a minor thing, but it seemed really contradictory. Beyond that, Tony is fantastic. I could spend hours gushing over him.
Skye. Oh Skye. I have feelings. In the original story, she wasn’t the most necessary character. She was a chance for Clay to try again when he sees someone in need. That’s fine. I’ve accepted that. I actually thought that was a nice way of ending the book off. Then they brought her into the show. She was fine, but she embodied the stereotypical “emo” girl with the dark clothes and the “I don’t give a fuck about anything” attitude. Fine. I rolled my eyes when she was introduced because I had no real attachment to her character anyway. What DID bother me was towards the end of series when Clay exposes her self-harm scars. Skye says that her self-harm is what she needs to do in order to survive. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to writing about any kind of mental illness. Especially depression. This idea that your options are either kill yourself or live, but you have to self-harm. Yes, those sound like the only two options to some people. Those sounded like my only two options for a very long time. But I wish that wasn’t what Skye’s character had become. She could have easily been that quiet girl who tries to stay out of everyone’s bullshit but still manages to get dragged by bullies. She wouldn’t have been as interesting for people watching the show, but it would have been a healthier representation of depression compared to how she was depicted in the show.
I’m done talking about characters for now. Those were just the three big ones that I had a lot of feelings about. Now, I want to talk about the story. A large part of why I love Thirteen Reasons Why is Hannah already died. It isn’t going to be a story about trying to love a girl back to health after she tries to kill herself. She’s gone. There is no fixing that. I’ve seen some people get upset over this approach to depression. They say it focuses less on Hannah and her mental health and the focus is more on Clay. That’s fair. But I like how the narrative was about the people left behind. Yes, this includes Clay. I like how the story isn’t about fixing the broken girl and it’s about where to go from here. What I really enjoyed about the show was the overarching story of Hannah’s parents and their lawsuit against the school. I’m sure it’s for legal/personal reasons, but we don’t really hear about that side when kids commit suicide. I was fascinated by how they both struggled with how to approach the lawsuit and how both parents changed throughout the story. I admired Hannah’s parents a lot. I’m sure it isn’t easy to deal with the loss of a child. Especially when that child commits suicide. I wasn’t really bothered that they lengthened the time in which the story takes place. It actually made a lot of sense. My friend committed suicide a couple of years ago and, if I got a mysterious letter or box of tapes from her, I would have to take longer than a single night to process everything. I also appreciated seeing how the school as an organization and the student body changed throughout the story as Clay moved along with the tapes. Overall, the story was good. They changed things and moved some stuff around, but it was still solid.
Here comes the not so positive things. There were a few things with the story that got on my nerves. First off, Justin. I appreciated how the show gave us more insight to the bullies and what their home lives were like, but I still hate Justin. He doesn’t get a pass because his home life is crap. Bullies do not get to use that as an excuse for why they are terrible people. Maybe my past makes me too angry at Justin’s story, but I don’t care. Something else that bothered me was the last scene with Tony and the last scene with Alex. Much like my problem with Skye, I felt like their reactions were predictable. They made me roll my eyes. I do think stories like theirs are important, but they also deserve their own focus. Their struggles shouldn’t be tacked onto the end of Hannah’s story. The last thing that bothered me was Hannah and Bryce’s last interaction. First, this brings up the question of how a person defines rape. In the book, Hannah was fingered by Bryce. In the show, it is definitely rape. Both of those are bad and Bryce is scum. That isn’t my problem. My issue is with how the scene was done. In the book, Hannah allows herself to be in this position as a farewell of sorts. Like, this interaction with Bryce was the only thing missing before she could commit to killing herself. In the show, Bryce uses force and takes advantage of Hannah when she clearly doesn’t want any of it. I felt like the scene in the book was more empowering because Hannah had that situation planned out. She knew what she was getting into. She wasn’t trying to make excuses. In the show, Hannah appeared trapped. This depiction of her was unfortunate. I think I’ll stop here. This is already way longer than I thought it was going to be. As a whole, I still love Thirteen Reasons Why. I still give the book 5/5. I would probably give the show 3/5. I just wanted to express some things as a fan of the book.

The trigger warnings at the start of the last few episodes were greatly appreciated. That being said, this is also really helpful if you want to know specifically what troubling things are in the show:

There are also a few scenes that involve guns. One is in the very last episode, and the other is a few episodes before it. Sadly, I don't remember exactly which episode off the top of my head. It's the scene with Bryce and Jessica. If you've watched the show, then you know which scene I'm referring to.