When I was 14, I read “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. Since the TV adaptation “13 Reasons Why” recently aired on Netflix it has flooded my newsfeed with people recalling how much they loved the book and that they couldn’t wait to watch the show.
As far as my experiences go, it always felt like I was missing something. A lot of my classmates loved the book, and while I found it interesting, there was just something about it that didn’t sit right with me. I have found myself re-examining my initial reactions and subsequently, I am not the only one disappointed by it.
I want to mention that I have not seen the show nor have I read the book since high school. However, with the reviews I have read of the show, I believe my initial reaction to the book had some validity.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the book, it is about a high school student named Hannah who commits suicide. She records the 13 reasons why she killed herself on tapes and leaves them for the narrator, Clay, to find.
As a 14 year old, I first found Hannah to be dramatic and like she wasn’t trying hard enough. My immediate after-thought is, “What is wrong with me? This character committed suicide, that is a horrible thing to think.”
It’s not, however, when a story like this is told the way it is.
My first problem with “13 Reasons Why” is that Hannah’s character seems dramatic and like she isn’t trying because that is how she was written. This perpetuates incredibly harmful stereotypes about people who have mental illnesses or suicidal ideations/tendencies.
The reason Hannah leaves these tapes for people is almost like a form of revenge that glorifies killing herself. Although many things and people can contribute to someone killing themselves, that choice lies with that person alone. I think it simplifies the complexities behind suicidal thoughts and is unnecessarily cruel to the people she leaves them to.
Again, I have not watched the show, but based on the original book and on reviews of the show, the depth of Hannah’s mental illnesses is not covered sufficiently. Mental illness is one of the most, if not the most prevalent reasoning behind suicide. To not include this in the story is negligent and problematic.
In addition to that, I have read that no resources are given throughout the show. This is again negligent and leads me to believe that mental illness and suicidal behavior are being exploited to sell a show. If the show’s purpose was to spread awareness and help people who have similar struggles to Hannah, I don’t understand why resources to things like the suicide hotline wouldn’t be included. I will recognize, however, that the book does include these.
As someone living with multiple mental illnesses and having experiences similar to Hannah’s, I find that the book and show do not accurately portray the issues and, at least as far as the book is concerned, is honestly insulting. That said, these are incredibly important topics to discuss. Right around the time I read the book was when I started struggling with my mental illnesses and I do not remember it being a source of comfort or guidance.
Starting a dialogue about depression, PTSD, bullying and all the other issues the book involves are relevant and often times paramount to an individual’s well being, especially high school students. It took me almost six years to find the language and resources to cope with my problems. These issues are bigger than one single person and I think one thing the book does a good job of is starting a conversation. These are hard things to talk about, but there are options and there is help.