GENRE: DRAMA, SUSPENSE
It’s a normal day for Clay Jensen, that is, until he comes home to find a strange box containing cassette tapes. Cassette tapes? What’s stranger is what those tapes contain—13 reasons why Hannah Baker killed herself.
The young adult reading community has been buzzing for years now about Jay Asher’s book about suicide, bullying, sexual assault, drinking, and other issues that high schoolers deal with. And I finally decided to pick it up myself after watching the new Netflix series. (Yes, I watched the series first.)
MY PROBLEMS WITH THE BOOK (AND SERIES)
As I’m no longer a teenager, I think I should preface my review with a little background about my own high school experience. I went to a “magnet” school, which basically means that we were heavily focused on the academics, everyone had to take a test to gain admittance. With that being said, I may have a distorted view of high school. While of course these things (drinking, partying, sex, bullying, etc.) went on, it wasn’t on any scale close to what happens in book or series, so this raises the question: is the portrayal of high school life in 13 Reasons Why accurate or over-exaggerated?
Bad things happen to people. Bullying and sexual assault are a reality everywhere. But, aren’t 13 reasons a bit excessive? Maybe 6 or 8 would be more believable.
Suicide is something that many people don’t know how to react to. It’s uncomfortable to talk about and it’s hard to cope with. The fact that Jay Asher wrote a book about it is commendable. We need to talk about things that make us uncomfortable and we need to get rid of the stigma that people should be ashamed about mental illness. This is where Asher’s book is lacking. There is no talk about mental illness. Even in the series there are posters all around the school about suicide, but you don’t see one for depression or bipolar disorder or any other mental illness.
Along with that, the portrayal of health care professionals was almost offensive. They make the guidance counselor out to be an idiot and a villain. In the book it’s more understandable because he’s the English teacher trying to be a guidance counselor. But today, a guidance counselor wouldn’t be that dumb. As someone with only a BS in Counseling and Psychology even I know that a school counselor (the one in the series) would not say half the things he did. The representation of mental health issues and mental health professionals was severely lacking and inaccurate.
The story was compelling and suspenseful. I didn’t want to stop reading. And while the execution wasn’t the best, it was a good start to a necessary conversation. For all that it lacks 13 Reasons Why illustrates the effect we have on others. As Cinderella would say, “have courage and be kind.”