Thirteen Reasons Why the Book is Different Than the Series

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Thirteen Reasons Why the book is different from the series...a parent's guide.

Thirteen Reasons Why the Book is Different Than the Series

Okay, I don’t really have thirteen reasons, but I wanted to put that in the title that because when I went looking for an article on the differences between the Netflix series and the book it was really difficult to find. So forgive me.

I became aware of the book and series when sixteen-year-old Kalina started talking to me about it a few weeks ago. She wanted to watch the series on Netflix and told me it was based on a book.

As always, I went to the book first (we are a family of readers after all) and then looked into the series. When I googled Thirteen Reasons Why I saw that there was a lot of controversy surrounding the series, which made me dig deeper. In the end, I watched the first two episodes and the last two episodes so I could write this post.

First off, I will answer the two questions I see floating around the internet.

Should I let my teen watch the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why?

For me, the answer is an easy no. It is rated M for mature audiences only. For you? Just know that it contains graphic scenes of suicide, rape and plenty of f-bombs.

Should I let my teen read the book Thirteen Reasons Why?

I read the book and didn’t like it. In all fairness, I read mostly non-fiction and young adult fiction is definitely not something I enjoy. I read the book because Kalina was interested in it. I told her (and 14-year-old Jubilee) they could read it but we needed to talk about it.

There are topics in the book that I believe merit discussion…and if you think I’m being overprotective let me point out that the book is about Hannah committing suicide in part because she feels she isn’t listened to…so I would be remiss not to listen to my own daughters.

Okay, first of all, the Netflix series veers far away from the plot in the book. It widens the plot and adds in subplot that simply wasn’t in the book. So just know, the book and series tell two completely different stories. For me, I let the girls read the book but they will not be watching the series.

Ways Thirteen Reasons Why Book is Different Than the Netflix Series

Clay Jensen

Clay is the main character in both the book and series. After Hannah kills herself he receives a shoe box with cassette tapes and spends one very long afternoon/night listening to the tapes of Hannah listing the thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Each side of each tape tells the story of one person who (she says) contributed to her suicide.

In the series, Clay comes off as very socially awkward. In the book, he is your regular guy, not popular but certainly not as awkward as he is portrayed in the series. In the book, he is more of the boy next door.

In the series, after rumors fly about Hannah having sex with a guy at school (she did not) Clay makes a dig to Hannah about how “sometimes it’s good to wait” and is rude to her after he hears the rumors and sees the pictures. This doesn’t happen in the book. Not even close.

In the book, her main “beef” with Clay seems to be the fact that he stopped kissing her when she said stop and he left when she told him to go away. In other words, he was a gentleman.

Hannah is mad about this because (as she indicates) Clay should have seen that she was a mess and needed support. This led to a great opportunity to talk to my girls about how no one can read their minds. At no point does Hannah tell Clay she needs help. They begin to kiss, she tells him to stop (he does) she tells him to leave (he does). Consent? Clay is obviously a big believer in it.

Interesting, in the series, Hannah approaches Clay at a party, flirts with him and unbuttons his shirt and is quite provocative. He is clearly uncomfortable and immediately buttons it back up, backing away. I’m not sure what message the makers of this series were trying to send….and I wonder how this scene would have been viewed were it the other way around (Clay making unwanted advances that made Hannah feel uncomfortable).

Technology

Smartphones were not a part of the book. Clay has a cell phone but we know it was a flip phone since the book was published in 2007. There was no sending mass emails or texting pictures to people. None of this existed in the book. In the book, Hannah and Justin kiss at the park and Justin spreads the word that they had sex and Hannah is branded a slut.

Timeframe

The book takes place over the course of a single night with no interactions with peers. Clay is walking through town visiting the thirteen spots indicated on Hannah’s map.

The series takes place over days or weeks where Clay interacts with the other people on the tapes. They have time to talk, discuss what happened, accuse each other and come up with a “narrative” that they could all stick to.

Lawsuit

In the series, Hannah’s parents file a lawsuit against the school for not helping her daughter. In the book, we barely see Hannah’s parents. All we know is that they are busy and devastated when she commits suicide.

Rape Scene

The scene in the hot tub where Bryce rapes Hannah is graphic and disturbing. Period.

The scene in the book? It’s a rape at all. In fact, there was so much controversy surrounding this scene I was confused when I read the book. I asked Kalina about this scene and she was shocked that it was a rape in the series. When I asked her why she thought Hannah chose to have sex with Bryce she said,

“I feel like she was already giving up and she needed something to push her over the edge. Kinda like something that would kill her mentally so it would be easier to kill herself physically.” 

This completely changes the conversation she has with the school counselor Mr. Porter. In the book she tells him that something happened which she regrets…in the series she tells him about the rape (without using that word) and he tells her she needs to confront her rapist or move on.

When he tells her to “move on” in the book, it is moving on from consensual sex she regrets…not from rape.

Sudden Change in Appearance- Symptoms of Suicide

Hannah talks about how everyone around her misses the warning signs that she was suicidal. One of the few examples she uses is her “drastic change in appearance.”

Hannah gets a haircut. Lots of people get haircuts, even drastic ones. Heck, I got a haircut last night. While I didn’t measure my hair went from halfway down my back to just above my shoulders. With no warning.

Suicide

In the book, we get no details. We eventually learn that Hannah swallowed pills but we don’t know when, where, who found her, etc. This part is almost glossed over. In the movie, the suicide is almost the pinnacle of the movie. It is showed in gory detail. Her mom’s initial reaction is underwhelming…

Hannah’s Reasons for Suicide

Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide in the book range from big (she is branded a slut at her new school) to normal high school stuff…someone published a poem she wrote without permission…someone took “compliments” out of her bag in communications class…girls were mean to her…Clay respected her and gave her space when she asked for it…

Concerns I have with the book Thirteen Reasons Why:

The book doesn’t do a great job of separating annoying behavior from real sexual harassment/danger (Tyler being viewed as an innocent peeping tom rather than a budding sexual predator, boys grabbing her butt, without consent).

My main issue with the book it is seems to reinforce the idea that if I kill myself, everyone will listen to me and understand me. For anyone considering suicide as a way to “show people”  or “teach them a lesson,” or “be noticed” his book will reinforce that idea.

Hannah has everyone’s attention. She is beautiful and articulate. Everyone is listening to her and focusing on her. All the people she blames for her suicide are tuning in to hear her words.

In the conclusion of the series, several of the characters have seen their errors, regretted their actions toward Hannah and are taking steps to change their lives, giving the impression that good came out of Hannah’s suicide.

Of course, in real life, the tapes would lead to a police investigation…not Hannah having the final say.

In the end? I thought it was a mediocre book that I would prefer my kids didn’t read. I allowed my teen girls to read it because of the buzz surrounding it. This led (and will continue to lead) to great discussions.

The series is a no-go for my girls and not something I had the time nor inclination to sit through.

Check out these two videos by Common Sense Media.
This video will help you decide whether or not to let you teen watch the series.

 This first video

 

And this one has great talking points if your kids do watch it.

Have you read the book or seen the series? What are your thoughts?

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2 Responses

  1. Paidi Violi

    I liked the series, because it was well done, though i disagree with many decisions and actions Hannah and people take. Until the rape scene, i couldn’t see why she committed suicide. She seemed strong and she even could move -even a little- forward from the rumors based on Travis. She desperately wanted a friend and she got one, Clay. Even though she hurts him, she should just approach him and explain as she did in the tapes. He feels rejected from the girl he loves, she should be the one to approach him again. She has a strong character and personality, so why didn’t she just tell him in a text, or a letter, or on the phone or in person? And about the parents? ok, they had problems, but they listened as far as i could tell. I get it, she was so hurt, but what she desperately wanted, a person to confide into, she had it in Clay. I would say i hate how the series justify her action and show how much good happens after her suicide, but also so much evil happens, like in Alex’s case and how things turned out with Travis. In fact, the way i see it, those two could start the series all over again. In the end, the thing i liked most in the series is how it is left up to me to actually decide and take a side. I really like the way Kalina puts it.

    • I agree. Her parents were busy but certainly seemed willing to listen. And yes, if she could record the tape to Clay when she planned to commit suicide, why not write a letter or give him the tape in life? The rape scene in the movie? No girl should have to suffer through something like that alone. I so wish she would have gone to her parents at that point. And yes, my biggest complaint about the series is how her death “fixed” things in other people. This totally sends the wrong message.

Please share your thoughts!