Format: TV series
Why would a dead girl lie? 13 Reasons Why is now streaming only on Netflix.
Based on the best-selling books by Jay Asher, the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who tragically committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Will Clay be one of them? 13 Reasons Why comes from executive producers Tom McCarthy, Brian Yorkey, Selena Gomez, Joy Gorman and Kristel Laiblin.
I will admit that I went into watching this series without reading Jay Asher’s book. Fortunately for me, my teen daughter read the book and we watched the series together. She was quick to point out some of the differences in the adaptation. My review is also tainted by the fact that I’m a mom to two teens and a tween. That fact alone colors my opinion of the series. I can’t help watching everything through Mama Bear eyes. It’s annoying at times, even I’ll admit that.
The series starts off with Hannah’s best friend moving away. This fact is what seems to un-anchor her, and as she floats from friend (I loved the “hot chocolate friend” moment) to friend and potential love interest to another, what unravels is a story of a very troubled girl. My Mama brain kept screaming at her to talk to her parents. Unlike in many other YA books/movies/shows, the parents are present. You get bits of their story, before and after, Hannah’s suicide. But like many teens, Hannah doesn’t discuss her feelings or what’s happening to her and around her with her parents. OH GOD, I remember being a teen. I remember my always-curious Mama drilling me on everyday happenings. It was easier to just talk to her than to mull things over on my own. I realize now, that her tactic was a good one albeit a very intrusive one. She was strict and raised in another country. There were no secrets between us.
So, watching Hannah navigate the emotionally ridden social spheres of high school hurt. It hurt to remember those daily extreme emotions and truly unimportant mountains of happenings that get magnified beyond their molehill origins. Now, I’m going to get into spoilers, like GINORMOUS ones, so watch the Netflix trailer, but don’t scroll beyond it if you don’t want to get spoiled!
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
UGH. First, as a mom to two middle schoolers (in 6th and 8th grade), I want to caution all parents that there are some serious scenes depicted in this series. I know, I know, it comes with a MA rating. But, a number of the first episodes contain nothing more controversial than f*bomb speckled dialogue. I got lulled into thinking it may be nothing more than a more swear-filled Pretty Little Liars. But, I want to issue a warning for the last episode’s extremely graphic content as well as episodes 9 and 12, both of which contain rape scenes. There are many reasons why the depiction of date rape is important, and I won’t argue the content (Teen Vogue and Seventeen both explain reasons why it’s important), but I want to caution parents of young teens. As parents, we know our kids best, and I had a looooooong discussion with both my girls about the content. My youngest hasn’t watched it. My oldest has watched some of the early episodes.
When I heard about the graphic way Hannah’s suicide was displayed, I password-protected our Netflix account. I wanted to stop and talk to my oldest daughter about what she wanted to watch. The scene is a cleverly plotted and visually alarming. My mama-heart shattered throughout it. If your teen wants to watch it (and my daughter’s 8th grade is all a-buzz over it), I suggest you pre-watch it or watch the 13th episode. The Gossip-Girl-y first episodes are not representative of what’s to come. Also, feel free to google it. You will see a lot of news stories, from reputable outlets, all expressing concern over its content.
“The way things are portrayed in the media does have an effect on the way suicides can happen, this is particularly true for young people that are very vulnerable and at risk of suicide,” Dan Reidenberg (the executive director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a nonprofit group with the mission of suicide prevention) said. “When they’re exposed to images that are really graphic, really sensational, and there is nothing balancing out for them … that they can get help and that treatment works and recovery is possible … we see them actually replaying what they’ve seen.”
My teen’s upset because I blocked the series, and apparently she’s the social pariah in her Algebra class because she hasn’t seen the extremely graphic content. My compromise was to tell her that we would watch it together and talk about it. The JED Foundation (a non-profit organization started in 2000 by Donna and Phillip Satow after their son Jed tragically committed suicide, which works to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college and university students) made a list of talking points for parents to discuss with their teens.
I will say that the acting in this series is superb. Kate Walsh needs to get an Emmy for her performance as Hannah’s mom. All the young actors in the series are amazing to watch. But, the sadness that tinges the plot (and the violent, graphic ending) should not be glamorized. I’m afraid that there is already some of that going on. Spotify has a 13 Reasons Why playlist. Memes with “this is your tape” are everywhere. There is no glamour in suicide. There is only permanent loss. However, the show is a conversation starter for parents of teens. We can’t be afraid to discuss these topics with our children. They are such hard, almost impossible discussions, and at times like these, I wish there was a What to Expect When You Have a Teen book out there. One with all the answers to the really hard questions and situations.
Have you seen 13 Reasons Why? What are your thoughts on it? What do you think about the changes from the book? There was only one rape (which was off-camera if you will and didn’t happen to Hannah) and Hannah chose to take pills in the book as opposed to the much more visually disturbing wrist slashing in the TV series. Were these changes made to sensationalize the series or to make it more visceral and therefore perhaps more preventative? I have a lot of opinions on it, but I’d love to hear yours first.