13 Reasons Why – Book vs Webseries

I remember reading the book by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why back in 2015. That was still years later than his original release in 2007. When Netflix announced that they would be making a series based off the books, I knew right away that a lot of things would change. Because books and screen are two very different mediums. And we actually got to learn about how to translate something stated in the books onscreen in one of the courses in college – Literature and Other Arts. Back in 2015, I remember actually liking the book and I did understand Hannah Baker’s plight. But I also remembered feeling a little hopeless because Clay Jensen simply passes on the tapes having listened to them and fulfilled his part in Hannah’s last request. I remember wondering if any of the characters understood what was going on in her life and even though suicide is a very personal choice and you can never blame someone for it, if they understood that the way we treat someone is never without consequences.

The series has received a lot of hate since its release. Being criticized about the way it handles the tough, real world issues. While I agree that they should have toned down the graphic violence because unfortunately Netflix is easily accessible to the minors as well and they are smart enough to break all kinds of parental locks, the series never does seem to glamourize or glorify suicide. In fact, Hannah Baker gets called out for the choices she makes constantly by other characters in season 1. Clay Jensen is initially mad at her for leaving him alone in the world, and for not ‘sticking with him’.

If you have read the book, then it is pretty obvious from the onset that Hannah in the books had sent out the tapes for revenge. This is not all that obvious in the series. In season 2, Justin trying to talk down to emotionally unstable Clay, tells him that it wasn’t what Hannah wanted. She tried to make sure no one would ever feel the way she did.

As adults we can rationalize the series that we watch and we appreciate the writers for trying their best to keep true to the realities. But I cannot imagine ever being okay with watching the series had I been a teenager. There’s a beautiful quote in the movie 17 Again which just about sums up what we feel as teenagers, “When you’re young everything feels like the end of the world. But it is not. It’s just the beginning.” Unfortunately, a lot of us cannot hold on to the thoughts of a better tomorrow. So someone already suffering from anxiety and depression would naturally get triggered by the show. The show is proof enough itself to know that one will never know what can set someone off. What might seem like a portrayal of truth to some might just be what sets another person off.

I personally liked watching the series, and I liked that they tried to humanize the characters in season 2 and tried to show that they were trying to redeem themselves. In season 1, most of the characters are largely characters who contributed to Hannah Baker ultimately deciding the life was not worth living anymore. Experts have already told us that for teenagers’ things often seem too bleak and a seemingly minor incident can feel as though it would go on forever.

Unfortunately given the fact that we live in a digital world and cyber bullying exists as does various other forms of it, it is important to raise awareness. It is sad to think half of what is depicted on screen actually happens in real life. But not talking about it or starting conversations about it, doesn’t help. A lot of viewers of the show actually found it easier to start speaking out about their problems. While another section of them was heavily triggered by it. Again, it goes back to never knowing how one little thing could have a big impact on an individual.

The stars of the show actually warn you not to watch the series explaining some of themes might trigger you. But despite that if you have kids and teenagers with access to Netflix, it is a good idea to watch the series with them so that you can talk about the issues depicted in the series together. Despite being a “mature adult” even I had to speak with a few trusted friends about the show, to come to terms with their heavier themes.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: 13 Reasons Why does show a lot of abuse and violence and sometimes it is hard to stomach. But so does a lot of other television shows that are aired during prime time. There are always two sides to every coin, and as Hannah Baker says, “thirteen sides to every story.” Personally, I have liked watching the series and I also liked how they don’t shy away from showing you the truth. And I would like to see the story tie all its loose ends and come to a close in season 3.

Author(s): Jay Asher
Publisher: Penguin UK
Release: August 2009
Genre: Fiction/YA
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Aniesha Brahma is the author of The Secret Proposal, The Guitar Girl, When Our Worlds Collide, All Signs Lead Back to You, An Awfully BIG Adventure, P.C. Chandra’s Awesome Four: Coming Together & The Legend of Stardust, and Children’s Classic Stories. She blogs regularly at Aniesha’s Musings and Bibliotheque, and runs BUZZ Magazine. You can follow her on social media: Facebook| Twitter | Instagram or just drop a mail at [email protected]

2 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why – Book vs Webseries

  1. Love what you have to say about the show. I actually agree that for a 23 year old, who should be more “capable” of handling heavy content, I was pretty affected by the series and was pretty upset for a week. What the show does in the first season, for most people I presume, is to make them relate to Hannah. That is such a dangerous place to be in. Especially if one has been through emotional and physical abuse the way Hannah did. Introspection after watching this show can be pretty harmful I suppose.

  2. Hi Madhura, thank you for your lovely comment. Yes, introspection is a dangerous thing after watching this show. And even though the show tried to dim down what the book was – Hannah’s revenge fantasy – I cannot deny that people might get triggered by it. That’s why they constantly harp about visiting their website, and to seek help and issue several trigger warnings – especially at the start of the heavier episodes. Being in the correct headspace to watch this show is really important. It tries to preach a good message. But it resorts to the violent realities to do so and ends up making us feel hopeless and helpless. As a show, I honestly believe they should have left us with a glimmer of hope. But as a writer, I understand why they chose to do what they did. Thanks again for reading this article!

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