True confession: I liked Jay Asher’s book, Thirteen Reasons Why, a lot, but I LOVED Netflix’s miniseries version of it. I binge-watched. There are several things the show did better which made it so gripping and effective. I’ll list my top 3:
1. Length – With 13 episodes, the writers of the series had time to expand the story and character development over a longer timeline. In particular, Hannah herself became three-dimensional in the series, and that gave her character a depth that wasn’t as strong in the novel.
2. Point of View – In the book, the viewpoint is limited to Hannah and Clay, but the show expands scenes in a way the develops the whole world and characters in Hannah’s life. The complete picture of what happened comes together in a way that the novel didn’t show.
3. Adaptation Changes – Usually when screenwriters mess with a book I love, I feel angry and robbed. “No! No! No!” I scream. “That’s not how it was!” In the case of the Netflix adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why, the writers did such an amazing job that I often found myself wondering, “Was that in the book?” or “I like that better than the book.”
Plenty of people have negative things to say about the book and the show. One critic of the novel, Hannah Moskowitz, wrote, “The very premise of the book is flawed to me; you don’t kill yourself for REASONS, you kill yourself because there is a bug in your brain gnawing at you and sucking out any valuable thought you’ve ever had, and I never saw that kind of bug in Hannah.”
I disagree with this. The topic of mental illness is a complex one, and it’s difficult to say whether or not a reason can push a profoundly depressed person over the edge—or what that reason might look like. A seemingly ordinary reason may be life-or-death to a teen. According to a 2017 report, a student commits suicide every hour in India; the pressure to perform academically is extremely high.
In my novel Straight A’s, the main character makes a plan to commit suicide because she’s knocked out of the valedictorian spot and thinks this is the end of her college path. The depression and anxiety are real for her. Her inability to see another path through her troubles are real.
We know from teen suicide rates that this is real.
What do you think? Did you see the show, Thirteen Reasons Why?, or read the book? Which did you like better, or did you give both rotten tomatoes? Share why in the comments.