13 Reasons Why: Netflix Series Review

Posted April 19, 2017 by sophie in Book Adaptations, Reviews, TV Show Review / 6 Comments

13 Reasons Why: Netflix Series Reviewby Jay Asher
Format: TV series
Source: Purchased

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!


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.

From abcnews.com, “13 Reasons Why Receives Backlash from Suicide Prevention Community”:

“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.


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6 responses to “13 Reasons Why: Netflix Series Review

  1. My thoughts revolve more around the story than the effect it will have on viewers. My 17yo son has not seen it, and if he wants to, I’ll strongly recommend that he read the book first, since the book is much less intense, and she dies by an overdose of pills. The 10th-anniversary edition of the book also has an alternate ending where Hannah survives–she is in the hospital while the tapes circulate. That ending was in the original draft, and Asher’s editor convinced him that the story would be more powerful if she didn’t survive.

    In any case, if you’re curious, you can see my thoughts here: http://horch.org/?p=29

    • My 14 yo daughter read that 10th anniversary edition and she told me about the alternate ending. I think it’s a solid story the way it was reason and even the way it’s presented in the series. I just wanted to throw in some cautionary notes for parents of younger teens (mine’s only in 8th grade) to watch this series with their child. It does provide a wonderful starting off point for conversations regarding mental illness, peer pressure and suicide.

      I am concerned about the choice that was made in changing the manner in which Hannah’s commits suicide. I think that along with the posters showing razor blades are purely done for ratings. They can sadly be triggers.

      As you can see, I’m still conflicted over this.

  2. I decided to wait to watch the final two episodes. I have read the book a few years ago and have been waiting for the adaptation ever since (remember that the book is like 10 years old, and so were the talks about its adaptation…). I was nervous. But the acting is just fantastic. Kate Walsh… I have always loved her and agree: she needs an EMY for this performance as Hannah’s mom.
    I am a mom of 2 girls (aged almost 12 and 10) and suicide has been a talk with them for several years now. My oldest is currently reading the book.
    I remember being a teen and the intensity of the feelings then. The drama. The pain that seems to never leave when we lose a friend, when we are bullied and made fun of day after day.
    I was nervous about all the changes they made (spoiler: the parents’ lawsuit, for example) but think it was really well made and that the changes added depth to the story without changing it so much.
    This series makes my heart ache and bleed. I understand the fear of some adults, that it “romanticize suicide”, that “it is the person’s choice, nobody’s fault” well, I disagree about responsibility even though yes, eventually the person comitting suicide is the one making that final choice.
    In France, in 2013, a 13yo teen committed suicide and left two letters: one in which she pointed a finger to the ones who were bullying her so hard, and one titled “my good memories with you” that she left blank. Her mom fought VERY hard to get to the bottom of the “why”, to get the kids judged for the bullying, the school for doing nothing when they knew something was going on, she wrote a book and they made a tv movie from it. I watched it with my soon to be 12 yo and it was hard (like 13 reasons why, we have the “before the suicide’ and the after).

    Kids need to know it is okay to talk to us about what is happening.

    • That news story you mentioned just broke my heart. There is a valid discussion about mental illness versus a teenager’s growing brain. The lawsuit was valid in my opinion and certainly something that we see happen over much lesser things in the U.S. (like the temperature of ones McD’s coffee). The acting is superb by the entire cast. I still can’t erase the image of the actual suicide from my brain. It’s that kind of imagery that I find troublesome along with the picture of a razor blade in some of the marketing. Triggers for a lot of adults and children. The good in all of this is the chance to talk openly to our children about mental illness, bullying and the finality of suicide.

  3. I am personally a fan of neither the book nor the movie, but the story admittedly has great educational values IMHO. Our blog had a kind of essay competition for a scholarship last year, where we had young students write about books that changed their life. Thirteen Reasons Why was among the most popular! The students said it changed the way they interact with their friends for the better – they become more open, patient, and compassionate with each other 🙂 One of them was actually able to detect her friend’s intention of suicide and prevented it. Here’s her essay that won the scholarship: https://www.hookedtobooks.com/hooked-to-books-scholarship-2016/
    So yes, I agree with you, parents should really read the book and watch the movie with their kids 🙂

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