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“Thirteen Reasons Why” Makes a Return

Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: The following article discusses a number of sensitive topics including, but not limited to, suicide and self-harm. Reader discretion is advised.

Justin+Foley%2C+one+of+Hannah%27s+antagonizers+at+Liberty+High.
Justin Foley, one of Hannah's antagonizers at Liberty High.

Justin Foley, one of Hannah's antagonizers at Liberty High.

Justin Foley, one of Hannah's antagonizers at Liberty High.

Keerthi Adusumilli, Arts and Entertainment Editor

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Thirteen tapes. One girl. One suicide.

The cover of Asher’s novel.

The story of Hannah Baker first became popular in 2007, when novelist Jay Asher’s book, Thirteen Reasons Why, was published by Razorbill. The story follows the narrator, Clay Evans, as he uncovers the causes of the love of his life, Hannah Baker’s suicide. Clay receives a box of tapes, thirteen to be precise. Each tape showcases a story dictated by Hannah–a reason for her suicide.

Asher’s novel skyrocketed to unmatched popularity, becoming the number one New York Times bestseller as well as an international best seller. The dual narratives of Hannah and Clay, and the way they intertwine, captivated readers across the globe. Yet the tragic tale of romance between Hannah and Clay is not the primary reason that the novel was, and continues to be, a paramount of young adult literature.

Indeed, Thirteen Reasons Why’s popularity stems from its unadulterated discussion of loaded topics: suicide, self-harm, bullying, sexual assault, etc. The novel forces readers to question their actions, consider their impact on the people around them, and confront their own inner struggles and turmoil. Hannah Baker’s story is no easy read, no pick-me-up. It is a devastating story of the death of an innocent girl, perpetrated by people who are supposed to be her peers and friends.

Netflix released “Thirteen Reasons Why” as a web television series earlier this year.

When Netflix released Thirteen Reasons Why as a thirteen-part web television series, it immediately was hugely popular amongst teenagers and adults alike. Played by Katherine Langford, Hannah Baker was brought to life in this web series, making the circumstances surrounding her untimely death all the more real, and all the more painful to process. The Netflix television program, produced by Selena Gomez, Diana Son, and several others, has no reservations in its portrayal of the abuse Hannah braved, from the photo that led to her being slut-shamed by her peers, to an explicit depiction of a senior, Bryce Walker, raping her.

Even Hannah’s suicide is broadcasted by the show, from the time she steals razor blades from her family’s pharmacy, to the time her mother finds her dead in the bathtub.

While the series in itself is “entertaining,” it also poses some serious questions. What message is it sending? Should youthful populations be watching something so graphic and turbulent? Is Thirteen Reasons Why romanticizing suicide? These questions are not easy to answer, and viewers have vastly differing opinions about the show and its value.

Some argue that the show brilliantly portrays a harrowing story, and in doing so opens up a conversation about suicide, and more importantly, how it can be prevented. These individuals believe that the show forces students to consider the weight their words possess in real-world settings, just as Hannah Baker’s tapes within the series forced her peers to realize how misdemeanors they dismissed had legitimate effects on a person’s well-being.

Yet others feel that the show does not do justice to actual high school experiences. One student at Watchung Hills said, “I feel like

Justin Foley, one of Hannah’s antagonizers at Liberty High.

there was a disconnect. I couldn’t relate to Liberty High [the fictional school Hannah attended] because everything that went on there was so dramatized. For example, there is no school where every student has each other’s number, but that was the case in the show. It was an unrealistic portrayal of high school and the way students interact.”

While this opinion address the accuracy of the show in its portrayal of the high school experience, others delve deeper into the legitimacy of the show’s meaning and message. Health teacher, Ms. Basini, who is in the process of teaching physiological wellness to her students opened up a conversation in her classroom about the show. Many students cited the show as, “heavy,” and “weighty,” referring to the nature of the topics discussed.

Ms. Basini shared her opinion of the show with The Arrowhead, saying, “In my opinion, some of shows’ events were unrealistic. [For example,] the time period of events, and the fact that none of the adults were aware of the tapes, and the last episode where Clay was speaking with the Counselor. But more importantly, [in real life,] many people are not left with answers [regarding a loved one’s suicide], like [Hannah’s] tapes gave.”

She continued, saying, “The attention the show is getting is disturbing. People are watching for the curiosity of how people impacted her, the method of suicide, [and] the drama it created for her peers, without truly understanding the finality of the situation and the real impact it has on the lives of her loved ones, or even those guilty of bullying/raping her. It’s [the effects of suicide] not over in 13 episodes, it’s a whole new normal for all those characters that will have to live with [Hannah’s suicide] everyday. Some will need professional help, some will have goals and dreams changed forever. And yes, that glorifies [suicide]. The aftermath is a struggle and it’s not portrayed that way at all or even addressed in the finale. Maybe season 2?”

Ms. Basini starts an important discussion with her statements. The first season of Thirteen Reasons Why made a splash in the entertainment industry and kickstarted a new narrative surrounding mental illness and depression/suicide. Yet, what will the second season of the show bring?

The new season, set to air in 2018, includes another thirteen suspenseful episodes. Sources have confirmed to various media outlets that the entire cast will be returning, including Katherine Langford (Hannah Baker), and that the series will no longer be conducted with Hannah as narrator. Viewers are eagerly awaiting her story’s continuation, and many hope that the second season will provide closure to a number of cliffhangers that were created after the season one finale.

An image of Hannah’s parents when they first started listening to her tapes at the end of season one.

Meghana Dantuluri, a senior, corroborated these wishes, saying, “I have high hopes for season two. Strictly in terms of plot, there were a lot of cliffhangers I would like to see resolved. But more importantly, I hope the show will present some ways that suicidal people can legitimately get help. I don’t think those various outlets were shown to the fullest extent in season one.”

Ultimately, as viewers eagerly await the arrival of season two of Thirteen Reasons Why, there are some important things to keep in mind. The show is not perfect in its portrayal of the story of someone who is suicidal. There were flaws in the setting, characters, events, and depictions constantly throughout season one–flaws that made the story seem overdramatized and somewhat unrealistic. Yet despite the arguably numerous shortcomings of season one, and the many that audiences can expect with season two, Thirteen Reasons Why has helped to give weight and importance to the struggles of mental illness, more so than ever before. Society cannot credit the show with forcing these topics to be discussed, but it can credit the show with making teenagers and younger populations more ready and willing to have these difficult and important conversations about mental health. That is far too great an impact to dismiss.

If you or a loved one needs help, or someone to talk to, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit Suicidepreventionlifeline.org. For more information on ways to help individuals in crisis, visit http://13reasonswhy.info/#usa. .

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“Thirteen Reasons Why” Makes a Return