“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, Book vs. TV adaptation


asteriaiconPlease allow me to try something a little bit different today. As I was watching Netflix this weekend, I came across a new show added to their lineup. I saw the title “Thirteen Reasons Why”, and thought “Huh, I wonder if it has anything to do with the book?” I am no longer “with-it” and don’t really get a lot of pop culture information, so I had no idea that this project was even in the works.  I had read the book way back in my book store days, and while admittedly I didn’t remember the exact details of the YA novel, I did remember that I was not a huge fan of the book, but I figured it was only 13 episodes so why not give it a shot and see how it goes.

For those not familiar with Jay Asher’s book, Thirteen Reason’s Why is a teen novel about a girl, Hannah, that commits suicide. Hannah has left behind 13 tapes, each one telling a specific person how they played a role in her death.  The tapes are to be listened to as a set, and each person passes the set onto the next in line, that way all 13 people get to hear what they did, and how it helped create the environment in which the next person wronged her. The idea of the book intrigued me, what could possibly go wrong in a teen’s life to pass on tapes to explain the wrong doings? How would these tapes impact each person as they receive them? What are they to do with that knowledge? What was Hannah’s overall purpose of leaving them, just to tell each person they hurt her or inflict just as much pain and hurt on them?

*Spoiler Alert* If you have not watched the show or read the books and intend to, this is the point to stop. My review is rife with spoilers!

The Book

The book changes narratives between Hannah as she tells her story, and Clay, who is the most current person to listen to the tapes, number 9. Clay worked with Hannah at the movie theatre, and while he really liked her, he was somewhat shy and never really talked to her much, they were hardly what could be called friends. Clay listens to each tape continuously in one night, trying to understand why he is on the tapes in the first place, all he knows is that one night she took some pills, and not really knowing her what could he possibly have done to her? He quickly learns how hard things really were for Hannah, how one seemingly simple childish high school act changed the course of her short life.

Personally, while I liked the idea of the book, I really didn’t understand Hannah. I didn’t connect with her, and felt she was somewhat childish, blowing some things out of proportion. Plus, there were one or two things that people had done in the course of the tapes that I felt if they bothered her as much as they clearly did, maybe she should have done something constructive about it. I found her whiny and I couldn’t sympathize with her.

The Show

One of the thing I loved about the show was that each episode focused on each specific person and how they impacted Hannah’s life. However, the narrative changed a bit. It is still told through Hannah and Clay, but now we actually get to hear Hannah’s voice and see her as story unfolds. There are things that happened in the show that didn’t happen in the book, after all it has to be fleshed out a bit to make a 250 odd paged book into a 13 hour show, but I found the additions and changes helped the story.  Clay takes his time listening to the tapes, listening to them over the course of a week, rather than in one night. This gives him time to reflect on each action, and confront each individual person, something that didn’t happen in the book. I personally really liked this aspect of it. We get to hear everyone’s point of view.

Poor Clay suffers greatly as a result though, both physically (confronting people causing …well confrontation’s), and mentally (he starts to hallucinate, seeing her everywhere). The tapes come with a detailed map Hannah has made, and as he listens to each tape, he follows along on the map, retracing her steps, seeing what she seen, and feeling what she felt. The visual aspects of the show added leaps and bounds to the story that a book simply cannot create. It made me actually connect with Hannah, made me understand that it wasn’t each individual action by each person that resulted in her sad demise, but the cumulative nature of it all. One thing led to another, which led to another, and snow balled out of control for her. For whatever reason, I just didn’t grasp that aspect in the book, and I am somewhat ashamed of myself for not seeing that.

Due to the fact that Clay takes his time listening to the tapes and confronts everyone, it isn’t a secret as to who has the tapes and how much he has listened to. This brought in a different element. Everyone named in the tapes was aware, and all trying to stop him from continuing with the story. There were a number of crimes committed by a few people, and they are afraid of what will happen when more people find out.

Another element to the story added with the television show is that we are no longer in 2007. This is the era where everyone knows everything about everyone thanks to social media. Technology plays a big role. It isn’t just rumors spreading here anymore like in the novel, now there are actual photographs and texting amongst the characters. You see photos spread from classmate to classmate, and see things posted on social media sites, in a way that didn’t happen in the book. You see how rumors spread faster and cause more trouble. You can also see the impact the tapes had on each character, how their lives changed, and how much they sometimes regretted their actions.  I do love that they kept the usage of cassette tapes though; it gave a nice retro feel.

The creators of the show also added in a touch of today’s culture. In the books you rarely hear anything about Hannah’s parents. The show however, added them as full characters, grieving for the loss of their daughter and trying to understand what happened. They decide to sue the school, feeling that the school should have known more or done more to stop this terrible tragedy. They blame the school for creating and allowing an atmosphere of bullying, and Hannah’s mom takes pictures of the bathroom stalls to show all of the negative comments written there. She finds other evidence in Hannah’s room that she may have been bullied, and rightfully wants justice for her daughter. This is something that is often heard on the news in the last few years, where people are seeing to fight back against bullying and fear. We also have a few openly gay characters now, which I love seeing. I loved that the casting crew provided a very diverse group of characters.

Due to the different avenue for the story, some things are a little more difficult to withstand when seeing rather than reading (to me anyway). Yes there is sex and violence, but I am sort of acclimatized to that from everyday television and media. Here, you see two separate characters get raped, and it is intense and real and awful to watch. You see the characters fight back and lose. You see the mental trauma that has resulted from the rape of both of these characters. You actually see the exact point in which Hannah gives up. It was a heartbreaking scene to view. However, nothing was as hard to watch as the moment Hannah takes her life. In the show it is not done by taking some unnamed pills, instead she slits her wrists, and it is as real as it gets. I had to look away. I couldn’t stomach watching such a scene, and wept for her the whole time.

The show changes the line up a bit in which people receive the tapes, mainly Clay went from number 9 to number 11. By doing this, Clay doesn’t have to pass on the tapes back to people who may destroy them; he passes them on to number 13. Number 12 was the person who raped her, and we know that he certainly will not let the tapes see the light of day again. Number 13 though, he is someone who let her down perhaps most of all: the school counsellor Mr. Porter. She met with him the day she kills herself, and told him about the rape. She tells him she doesn’t want to continue living. She won’t, however, tell him who raped her. After all, who will believe that the rich star quarterback raped her (a little clichéd to me, but I’ll forgive). Mr. Porter tells her that if she isn’t willing to press charges, she needs to move on. Get over it. This is why rape culture exists in the first place, and this is why people think its okay. Just get over it.

The ending was powerful. Not only do we see such a tragic loss, we have another character attempt suicide (we don’t know if it was successful or not).  We also see Clay reach out to a former friend, and show a level of compassion that we so rarely see in today’s society. Clay has evolved, something I always hope for in characters. And in case you were wondering…why was Clay on the tape in the first place? He was innocent. He didn’t hurt her. If anything she wished for more time with him. He was the nicest person she had met, and she wished things had turned out different between them. I believe he was there out of guilt; guilt that she chose this path knowing there was a different one available, and leaving behind perhaps her only true friend.

I think modernizing the show was the best way to go. We can see struggles of today’s teens, and see how things can change so quickly thanks to social media. Not only do you know the various things that happen to Hannah, but watching them makes it so much more real. I think the show (and book too) tackle some very strong subject topics and handle them gracefully. I also think the show adequately showed a few aspects that are wrong in today’s society, from rape culture to how we view suicide, even how we see suing as an option to heal.

If by now you haven’t guessed, I loved loved loved the show. I felt a whole new appreciation for the author and the book as a whole. I looked at things different and felt things different. Perhaps I didn’t associate with Hannah because I wasn’t a thin pretty American teen who went to parties and found themselves the main gossip of the school. I had my own struggles, but I found her to be whiny and unlikable. The show though, I couldn’t have appreciated her more. I felt so awful for her as I watched everything spiral out of control, and watched just how much she suffered.  The characters in the show called Hannah a liar, and it wasn’t until the show that I realized that she was merely telling her truth, which can be different from someone else’s, but no less valid. The whole series was so powerful, with a number of good messages, and a good look at our culture. And I can say now I am so glad I read the book, even though it was a while ago, and extremely thankful that I found this on Netflix. I burned through the season in a day, and I can safely say it has had a lasting impact on my life, and hopefully my actions in the future. Go read the book!  Definitely go watch the show!! You won’t regret it!

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