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13 Reasons Why

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13 Reasons Why is Netflix’s chilling adaptation of Jay Asher’s best-selling, 2007 Young Adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. The novel and the Netflix production tell the story of Hannah Baker, the bright, complicated teen does the unthinkable, yet the true protagonist is Clay Jensen, a socially awkward, sensitive boy who is Hannah’s friend, co-worker, and most importantly, potential savior.

Unfortunately, at sixteen, Clay didn’t have the language to express the depth of his feelings for Hannah, and as the events start unraveling, a series of incidents suck the teens into a whirlpool from which neither can escape. We watch as thoughtless acts push a girl toward self-destruction, the consequences of her suicide, and its effect on her parents and those in her high school who pushed her to suicide. Unlike the book, the thirteen-episode format of 13 Reasons Why allows the writers to go beyond Hannah’s retelling of the events and to delve into the backstories and motivation of her those who treated Hannah with apathy and heartlessness.

The thirteen reasons are the seven secret cassettes Hannah recorded prior to her demise. Each double-sided tape details bullying, betrayal, and unimaginable brutality from those she considered friends. There is Justin, a handsome jock with whom Hannah shared an innocent kiss. 

Unfortunately, Justin and his friends twists Hannah’s beautiful moment into a sordid tryst affair and their thoughtlessness labels her the school slut. It doesn’t help when another boy bestows title of “Best Ass” in the school on her. The discoveries on the tapes escalate into a cascade of lies, shaming, and duplicity that come to a head when the school’s golden boy brutally rapes Hannah. After the attack, a fragile Hannah turns to a school counselor who appears powerless. She then decides to take her own life in one of the most brutal depictions of suicide ever put on film. Because of the tapes, the story doesn’t end with her death, and the repercussions begin.

Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford
The cast, led by Dylan Minnette in an impeccably nuanced performance as Clay, and Katherine Langford’s soulful performance as Hannah, is superlative. The lead actors not only have palpable chemistry with each other, they also embody their roles with authenticity and pathos; however, the star turns are not simply limited to the leads. Alisha Boe is remarkable as Jessica, Hannah’s troubled friend who betrays her, as is Miles Heizer, the boy who comes between Hannah and Jessica. Brandon Flynn does fine work as Justin, the jock whose callousness started Hannah’s descent.

While the younger actors are all superb, the older actors deserve kudos too. Kate Walsh gives a heart-breaking performance as Hannah’s mother and Derek Luke hits all the right notes as Hannah’s befuddled counselor.

The series has had its detractors, especially from those who feel it glamourizes suicide by allowing Hannah’s story to live on through the tapes. Others hated the take-no-prisoner depiction of Hannah’s rape and suicide. I disagree with the disparagers on both points. The tapes allowed me as both a reader and a viewer to understand the mindset of a troubled teen and share her desperation. Sexual assault, depression, and self-destruction are never glamorous and the show presented them in the most graphic detail possible. Who can gage the success of season two without the novel as a guide, but if the writing matches the acting and production values of the previous season, fans of the show are in for a five-star ride. 

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