True confession from a YA book addict: Although I liked Jay Asher’s book, Thirteen Reasons Why, I LOVED Netflix’s miniseries version of it. Admitting that I binge-watched the whole first season but struggled to turn the pages is hard for a bibliophile. I’m biased toward books. Three rooms in my house contain bookshelves crowded with books. I write them.
Books rule. They’re always supposed to be better. Always.
But Netflix did several things right:
1. Adaptation Changes
Usually when screenwriters mess with a book I love, I groan, “No, no, no!” during the offending scenes. “That’s not how it was! You’re messing it up!” 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.” There was never a moment when I felt the series wasn’t doing the original novel justice. Rather, the changes made the whole story more honest. Everything shown told openly, including Hannah’s graphic suicide scene, and this way of showing events makes the whole narrative compelling.
2. Point of View
The viewpoint in the book is limited to Hannah and Clay, but the show expands scenes in a way that develops the entire world and all of the characters in Hannah’s life. Giving the full picture of what happened through multiple viewpoints helped me put the events together in a more complete way, and I felt more strongly connected to them on an emotional level than with the book characters. Each of them became real, and their roles in the events leading up to her death were more poignant.
It helped that the entire cast was amazing.
With lower word counts in average YA fiction, Jay Asher faced certain constraints. However with 13 episodes, the writers of the series could expand the entire story and character development over a longer timeline. In particular, Hanna herself became three-dimensional in the series, and that gave her character a depth that felt so much stronger than in the novel.
In fact this storytelling technique of using multiple episodes in a series to tell a whole story, such as with Netflix’s Stranger Things, has become both popular and effective because of the binge-watching phenomenon. A great many of us will happily watch an entire season of a series in a weekend the way we’d watch a two-hour movie, so the effect feels very much the same except more satisfying because there is… more.
Which leads me to my closing point. Sometimes writers don’t know when to stop. There’s the tendency to conclude that if audiences liked the show so much, maybe they’ll want more. Another season. Another story. They think, “Hey, the book ended here, but maybe we could come up with something.”
With Thirteen Reasons Why, Netflix should have stopped with Season 1 along with the novel. The End.
What are your thoughts on the subject: book or series—and why?