13 reasons netflix book

Netflix 13 Reasons Why – book vs show

Books, TV & Netflix

Recently, I read β€œYou Think It, I’ll Say It.” It’s a new book of short fiction by Curtis Sittenfeld, an author whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, the show based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel. A high school student, Hannah Baker, leaves a suicide note in the form of audio cassettes, accusing thirteen (mostly) classmates of bullying her. The tapes are passed around this baker’s dozen, under threat of exposure by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier, sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, with a whole episode devoted to that character and what Hannah says they did wrong. We also see everything that was going wrong in the accused kids’ lives – which, we discover, was a lot…

‘Cos we move from mean girls and school cliques, to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex, running an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, of being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – even winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. Even if the bullying or social pressures hit home for many young female viewers, the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving I can’t appreciate its appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried the sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, while the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, with ongoing exposure a potential factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens, Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing, but he didn’t speak to her in case other kids teased him. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age. I think readers are being encouraged to be kinder, to be less daunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe then schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

17 thoughts on “Netflix 13 Reasons Why – book vs show

  1. You have my curiosity.

    I have two teenage girls – ages 16 and 14. This scares the hell out me. We try to remind them that high-school is a tiny fraction of their lives but still, our words can only do so much.

    I’ll have to see if you and I agree with the Netflix version. I’ll ask my girls if they have the book.

    Excellent review!!!

    1. I couldn’t have watched this at 14 or 16. I could only watch teen drama with a dollop of sci-fi or fantasy. I just found the show boring. It got so much media hype, hysteria, it became such a big deal.

  2. I completely agree with your ideas here, and I thought Asher’s book was much better- the series seems to want to cram in every issue possible which, while relevant, is not possible, and not all the issues can be covered in necessary detail πŸ™‚

  3. I have pretty much avoided this one, as someone very close to me last year had some suicidal thoughts. The subject was just too much for me to handle, and I’m honestly thinking that in all likelyhood I probably won’t see the series itself. The book sounds way better though so maybe at some point I might check that one out. As always, great post! 😊

    1. I don’t recommend the show tbh. I basically think it’s hyped and boring. I’d rarely say this but it really isn’t for kids, and if someone feels a bit down, I don’t think it’s going to help! And there is also a scene at the end that is very graphic, very sad. I’d say the show is way darker than the book – although that is still about a suicidal girl so….not an easy topic.

  4. Amazing Review πŸ‘Œ I have mix feeling regarding this book & tv show, I like it & hate as well, I enjoyed the book & 1st season but season 2 quite disappoint me, some part I found totally unnecessary πŸ˜”
    Btw I also Reviewed this book

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