Synopsis: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.
Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.
THIRTEEN REASONS WHY I HATE THIS BOOK.
Alright. I really thought I wasn’t going to review this book. But a status sharing certain anti-anti 13 Reasons Why sentiments (did that make sense?) just came up onto my timeline, and I, to put it cordially, fucking snapped.
Let me preface this by saying: If this book or television show helped you in any way, this review is not for you. We all have our coping mechanisms, we all have our favorite books – I am absolutely not here to shit on anyone’s fave. If you liked this book, that’s good. Please don’t read this. I reserve the right not to be nice to you if you comment on this saying I’m being unfair.
So. There are two sides to this debate. One side thinks this book and the
son of Satan television show it spawned is inspiring, important, other positive i-words. The other side – the side of my brethren, which is, unsurprisingly to anyone who follows me on here, staggeringly outnumbered – DISAGREES. I’m going to try to outline for you why I feel that way.
Disclaimer: If this at any point seems like I’m telling you you’re not allowed to be a fan of this shit, I’m not. But I passionately hate it, so don’t expect objectivity. Also, this contains spoilers for both the book and the show, of course.
Also: trigger warning suicide, depression, death, sexual assault, etc.
Let’s get started. I’ll organize this by my very own thirteen reasons.
TAPE #1: The book and the show DON’T bring attention to mental illness.
That’s one of the biggest defenses I’ve seen of this story. That yes, it’s triggering and yes, it’s intense and yes, it’s hard to talk about. But it’s important.
Here’s the thing: Hannah Baker is not a mentally ill character.
My friend, who I will talk more about later, informed me that the show never says the word “depression.”
Hannah doesn’t get help. The show doesn’t depict the benefits of getting help. (More on that in a later tape.) I don’t think she gets diagnosed with anything, or is medicated, or shows symptoms of depression that are identifiable.
So how the fucking fuck is this an improved discussion of mental illness if it’s never goddamn talked about?
TAPE #2: Suicide glorification.
Everyone’s thought about suicide. Especially in those tender, self-centered years in middle and high school. If I died, then they would know. The mean girls would regret their choices, the guy who never noticed you would wish he had, your friends would worship your memory, your school would make you a martyr.
But that’s not how it works.
As you mature, you recognize that. When you die, it’s over for you. You don’t get to grow up. But everyone you ever knew does. And here’s the bitter truth: They’re not going to analyze their choices and regret them. They might not even remember you. They, after all, like you, are only teenagers.
But not in the world of Thirteen Reasons Why. No, if you’re Hannah Baker, it’s quite the opposite.
You are talked about beyond life. You act as a hero, distributing punishments and harsh words as you see fit, with no repercussions for your actions. You’re a perfect saint, your death preventing anyone from speaking negatively about you. Your old friends will miss you, the bullies will be humiliated and that humiliation wills them into realizations, the boy you liked desperately wishes that he had just told you he liked you too.
And for some reason, it’s okay for you to blame your fellow high schoolers – just as vulnerable and worried and uncertain as you ever were – for your death. No one will criticize you for placing that unfair burden on them. For telling the friend you grew apart from that it’s her fault. For telling the people you wronged it’s on them.
God, you guys. This isn’t what happens if a teenager commits suicide. This isn’t what we should be portraying as a realistic image of what could ever, ever happen.
TAPE #3: Think about who is WATCHING this.
Remember earlier, how I posited that most everybody has thought about suicide – at least in the abstract? And how that most often happens in middle and high school?
Well, guess who this show’s target demographic is. That’s right. The same vulnerable, depressed, self-hating group that already has the tendency to think of suicide as an appropriate option.
I have three younger siblings. My sisters are seventeen and fifteen; my brother is twelve. My sisters and each and every one of their friends have watched this fucking show. I begged my brother not to watch it, even though all of his friends have seen it.
Do you understand that? My twelve year old brother is being left out of conversations, jokes, references, group chats and budding friendships because he hasn’t watched a show that centers on suicide and sexual assault. Do you see what the stakes of this are? I’m not just some melodramatic reviewer without a life, trying to ruin a show that people like.
Every student in every middle and high school in America will be told to watch this show. And the author, the producers, the directors and adapters, couldn’t even be bothered to consider the repercussions of their actions.
TAPE #4: Having problems? Just kill yourself.
This show doesn’t depict the benefits of therapy, of antidepressive medication (hard when your protagonist doesn’t have a diagnosis), of confiding in your loved ones. The only potential solution offered within the narrative is suicide. And, as I talked about earlier, it works out pretty fucking well for Hannah Baker.
TAPE #5: Why is this being treated like fucking Bring It On?
I swear to God I’m going to open Facebook tonight and someone will have shared a Buzzfeed quiz called “How Would You Kill Yourself If You Were On Thirteen Reasons Why?” Y’all can’t fucking have this both ways. Pick a lane: is this show intense and important, bringing attention to under-discussed issues in a serious and mature way, or do you want to know which character you are based on your cupcake preferences? This either is or isn’t a joke. It’s up to you.
And please don’t even get me started on the “Welcome to your tape” meme. There is nothing I understand less than this show’s fandom. Y’all are so adamant that this shit is important, and yet all you want is to act like this show is Pitch Perfect.
There’s another thing that bugs me about the fans of this show. They’re constantly spewing the this-show-is-important PSA, but the second someone who actually has depression or has experienced suicidal thoughts shows up, they’re silenced. If a suicidal or once-suicidal person tries to bring up the problems with this show, the fans of it ignore them or worse. Doesn’t that seem like a downgrade on mental health awareness? Fifteen year olds with crushes on the poor man’s Logan Lerman who stars in this show now think they know more than people who actually, you know, have depression.
TAPE #6: There’s a difference between triggering content and this.
The show gives trigger warnings. Cool. That’s not even sarcastic – I think that’s great.
But if you’ve seen the show, you know some of the graphic imagery goes so fucking beyond what any viewer would expect.
People who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts watch this show. People who are triggered by sexual assault watch this show. People have panic attack after panic attack due to this show. Worst of all, some of them push themselves to finish it, despite this burden, because they think it’ll have some grand message or call to action or important theme. But they’re wrong. And they put themselves through it for nothing.
TAPE #7: This isn’t how suicidal thoughts work.
Hannah has reasons for committing suicide. It’s like there was a straw that broke the camel’s back. Suicidal thoughts aren’t like that.
If you’re thinking seriously about committing suicide, it’s not because of a baker’s dozen carefully delineated causes. It’s because everything feels impenetrably, incurably, never-endingly awful. It feels like there are no bright spots and no way out.
The difference? Everybody feels like Hannah Baker does. Everybody has the humiliating moments and regrets that, like, haunt them before they sleep every night. But not everybody has severe depression. Trying to equate the two is HORRIFIC. It both reduces the trauma of having depression and indicates suicide as an option for people who may have never considered it otherwise.
TAPE #8: Don’t tell teenagers not to go to authority figures.
Making the guidance counselor a villain is maybe one of the most irresponsible attempts at drama in this stupid fucking narrative. The absolute last thing you should be doing is giving any indication to a vulnerable group that going to a trusted adult won’t work out well.
Teenagers everywhere: This book and show are total fucking bullshit. Your guidance counselors know exactly what to do. If you’re feeling like something is wrong, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, tell someone. If you feel safe to confide in a guidance counselor, do it. If you don’t, find another trusted adult: A teacher, a parent, a school administrator. Anything. Just don’t take this bullshit for an example.
TAPE #9: The experts say fuck this.
There’s a bajillion more articles on this, but I’m already shaking with anger.
TAPE #10: Say the word depression.
How goddamn hard is it? Fuck your quasi-advocacy.
TAPE #11: This is an instruction manual.
One morning, I’ll wake up to my phone alarm. Check my notifications, see one from The Washington Post. Normal, when we haven’t had a slow news day in a year. But the headline won’t be political. It’ll be something like, “Teen Suicide Appears Inspired By Netflix Show.” And I’ll know, instantly. Feel awful for that poor vulnerable kid, but also think, Of course. Think, Why didn’t anybody see this coming?
At least the book didn’t tell the reader how to slit their wrists.
TAPE #12: Look at all these beautiful teens.
I’m just saying, it probably doesn’t make your depressed audience of teenagers feel better if they spend the bajillion hours this show lasts staring at impossibly gorgeous adults. It’s a cast of classically good looking twenty-somethings wearing natural makeup, with idealized bodies and perfect hair.
That’s not different from any other teen show. It just feels especially significant when you think about how smugly this show pats itself on the back.
TAPE #13: That goddamn ending.
It’s laughable. This show just makes no fucking sense.
Bottom line: I HATE this book and show like I’ve never hated anything. I’m worried about everyone I know who has seen it. I’m worried about every teenager who has heard about it. And I’m worried about the precedent this sets for irresponsibly using suicide as a plot point, without care for who it hurts.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck this book, this show, Jay Asher, and anyone who had any part in bringing it into existence.