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Review: 13 Reasons Why (novel)

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This post discusses suicide, depression and violence against women. If this post triggers any harmful thoughts or feelings for you, please seek immediate professional help.

This post also contains spoilers.

Once upon a time, there was a teenager named Hannah Baker. If you’ve recently watched the Netflix series, you know what’s coming. Or do you?

The novel isn’t new; it was released way back in 2007. Still outside the era for recording cassette tapes, may I add. It came to the attention of Selena Gomez, who produced the filmed version.

The novel is told from Clay’s viewpoint as he listens to each tape. Hannah’s words are differentiated from Clay’s in italics, with Clay’s reactions intertwined. This is where the similarities to the series end. The book offers no outside timeline- what the characters think and feel about their own tapes is never mentioned. In fact, these characters don’t exist outside of the tapes. The only time Clay comes into contact with someone other than Tony is when he’s outside Tyler’s window and runs into Marcus. There’s no plot against Clay, there’s no subplot of Clay’s mother being involved in the civil case, there’s no grieving parents and no mention of Tony being gay.

There are other differences too: Clay gives away everything in the first chapter. Jenny Kurtz is the cheerleader who fells the stop sign. Hannah’s parents run a shoe store and took Hannah’s body back to their home town to bury her. Hannah committed suicide by overdose. Clay’s tape happens at the beginning of the party, not the end.

I don’t think the narrative is a particularly good one. What I loved about the series is that each character was presented in time and left you wondering what they did for Hannah to include them on her tapes. The novel doesn’t really lead you anywhere. They’re just names on a tape. There’s no connection with anyone except Hannah and Clay. What’s more, I gave up caring.

At the end of the version I read (Kindle), there’s a Q&A with the author, Jay Asher. He explains the concept of the story, how the idea came to him and why he wrote Clay interjecting with Hannah’s story. He even reveals the original title for the novel: Baker’s Dozen: The AudioBiography of Hannah Baker.

I don’t know what Selena Gomez saw in the novel in order to make it a series, but I’m glad she did. Most times, the novel is so much better than the filmed adaptation, but in this case, the series is the much better offering. Skip this and watch it instead.

2 out of 5 bookmarks.

 

April 28, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

13 Reasons Why: A Conversation

This post contains talk of suicide, violence, bullying and spoilers.

If this post triggers horrible feelings and thoughts, please seek help immediately.

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If you’ve been living in a cave for the past month or so, here’s a brief synopsis of 13 Reasons Why: Hannah Baker has killed herself, but has left behind a series of cassette tapes explaining her decision. The tapes feature people at her school.

Australia’s leading mental health organisation for young people, Headspace, has spoken about their concerns that the show, particularly the final episode, may be harmful to vulnerable persons.

I am not going to discuss the depiction of suicide. Neither am I going to comment on some reviews saying her reasons were “weak”. Mental illness shares common characteristics but is different for everyone: reasons are reasons. I am an adult and I found the final three episodes very difficult to watch.

What I am eager to talk about is the narrative and general thoughts about the series. I’ve not yet read the book, although it is a New York Times bestseller, garnering even more popularity thanks to the Netflix series.

Clay Jensen is a likeable young man who discovers Hannah’s tapes left on his doorstep. He starts listening, wondering why his friend killed herself and why he was sent these tapes. Spoiler: he’s number 11.

Hannah was the new girl at her high school. Thus begins her tragic tale of high school bullying and violence.

The viewer is led through Hannah’s final months, from her disastrous dates with popular boys to ruined friendships and rape. Her story is interwoven with that of the aftermath of her death. The two scenarios are generally easy to tell apart; Hannah’s scenes are generally brighter and warmer tones while the aftermath is colder and greyer. And, thanks to Clay’s bike accidents, he has a wound on his forehead which further helps orient the viewer.

I really liked how the narrative was presented. The subject of each tape and the circumstances were revealed in due course without the viewer needing to guess or think ahead. At one point I wondered if the finale was a school shooting, which seemed to be confirmed when Tyler packed some guns into a case. Thankfully, I was wrong. (I wonder what the media would have said about that?)

So, Hannah had some pretty shitty “friends” and people she hung out with. She wasn’t really excluded from anything, still invited to parties and the boys still thought she was hot (thanks to Alex’s list. no doubt). As Skye said. lots of people in high school deal with the same shit every day and get through it. Hannah’s ability to cope diminished with every new shit thrown at her.

High school culture sucks. I was bullied all the way through school and was sent to the school counselor who gave me the bullshit advice, “treat your bullies like trees.” What? “You know they’re there, but ignore them.” I told him to stick his job where the sun doesn’t shine, and stormed out of his office, slamming the door behind me. I got detention for that. He kept his job.

So we get to Hannah’s final tape, where she’s recorded her conversation with her own school counselor. Did he do anything wrong? Wellllllll, who can say? Hannah went home and killed herself, but could he have stopped her? By that point it seemed Hannah had made up her mind, having taken razors from her parents’ pharmacy. It’s a series of What If…? pondered by each character, with no answers. Sure, if Justin wasn’t a dick and Bryce didn’t rape her and Clay told her he loved her, things might have been different. The point is, her reasons snowballed, with each experience adding to her growing insecurities and paranoia.

Clay’s own paranoia threatens to overtake the series. He was on a mission to drag down every one of Hannah’s abusers which could have derailed the series but was brought back. I understand his need for justice, and in the end it worked well for him to have waited as well as taking the series out of a revenge hunt to bring it back to Hannah’s story.

Let’s talk about the last three episodes. These are easily the best of the series. Secrets which appear in the first page of the novel (which is as far as I allowed myself before I finished the show) are revealed here. The viewer is drawn to Clay. He’s too sweet and kind to be mentioned in the tapes yet Hannah admits it was her own mind which brought about their downfall. Clay is the antithesis to the dickheads whom Hannah has previously had a crush on/dated. What on Earth could Clay have possibly done to earn a place as a reason for her death?

He loved her and she pushed him away, frightened by her own traumas of how other boys had treated her. Could he have prevented her death? Probably not. Had he stayed at the party, she would have walked away from him. He was caught in a no-win situation. In time, they probably would have repaired their relationship. Tony was just a bit dramatic when he told Clay he was the cause of Hannah killing herself.

Tony. What was his deal? His full friendship with Hannah was never really explored in the series. He was there while the police carried her body out of the house. He was trusted with the tapes, given instructions on what to do with the tapes if they weren’t passed on. In the end, he decides to give the tapes to her parents.

Can you imagine being a parent to a suicided child and listening to those tapes? Knowing what was happening to your child and absolutely powerless to do anything? I wonder how it would have affected the outcome of the civil suit. (I assume in reality, Lainie Jensen would have been dismissed from the case once her son was deposed, if not before.)

I believe the depictions of high school culture are realistic. High school sucks, and it’s so much worse now than when I was at school. Sure, I was bullied, but when I got home it stopped. With technology and social media, someone is bullied constantly, 24/7. It doesn’t ever stop. To me, the overarching message of this series is needing to change this culture. Bullying is never OK. Violence towards women is never OK, especially if they are drunk and unconscious. Covering up for your mates is not OK. I have a toddler now, but wonder what the world will be like when she’s in school. I pray that she has a trusted friend to talk to, or an adult that she feels comfortable talking to (no teenager would ever talk to their parents!) Teenage years are really tough. If only we could treat each other respectfully.

Edit: I’ve started reading the novel. Hannah overdoses on pills, which means the TV series deliberately changed the method to a more graphic representation. Whoa. I can’t even process this right now.

April 19, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | 1 Comment