Although this blog is for book reviews, I felt it necessary to write this post about a series on Netflix that captured my attention and emotions. On a recommendation from a friend, I decided to watch 13 Reasons Why, the phenomenal show that explores the life of a teenager girl who commits suicide and the lives of those around her. The powerful messages in the show resonate long after its conclusion, an influx of emotions and revelations that brought me to tears. The creators of the show have stated that they believe this show has the power to change the world. Having finished it, I concur wholeheartedly. There are those who will watch the show and feel that the characters, in particular Hannah, might be “too sensitive” or “fragile”. The reality is the events that happen in the show have occurred for generations but were rarely ever discussed. It has been common practice to sweep things under the rug and pretend as if they do not exist. We as a society know far better.
The story begins with Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a sophomore who receives a box of cassettes from his deceased friend, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has recently committed suicide. She recorded the tapes before her death and each tape is dedicated to an individual she encountered that is in some way responsible for her death. As Clay listens to the tapes, we are introduced to the main characters and the roles they played in the web of deceit and suspicion that has engulfed their school. The adults are largely clueless to what happens at the school and even the administrators are a loss as to why Hannah has taken her own life. But as the story progresses, we see the signs were all there and no one picked up on her plight. Her parents have sued the school and refused a paltry settlement. Each of the students known to associate with her are subpoenaed for depositions and give their side of the story. The severity of the lawsuit and the internal demons that plague the characters, cause them to unravel as each seeks to protect their own imagine while reconciling their feelings of guilt in another student’s demise. In death, Hannah is vindicated and the full story finally comes to light. due to the efforts of Clay, the lawyers and Tony, who serves as Clay’s guardian angel per Hannah’s instructions. In life, there are Hannah’s all over this world who suffer in silence and make the ultimate decision to end their lives. Our hope is that we can reach them before it is too late.
When he realizes how he failed to help Hannah, Clay makes a statement that is deep and is literally the problem throughout the show. He says “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her”. As scary as it may sound, we all know or have known someone who could have been Hannah. The face may be different but the struggles can be similar. If there is anything we can learn from the story, it is that we should show and tell the people close to us that we love them when we can and be there for them in their time of need. Tomorrow is never guaranteed and as we see in the show, we never know what a person is going through.
All of us have faced bullies before in the schoolyard, in the neighborhood or even at work. But what took place in the show went far beyond bullying and is a reflection on the problems that continue to plague society. Behavior that is atrocious and inappropriate cannot be excused for kids being kids, boys being boys or just “locker room talk.” The women who are victims of sexual assault and harassment could be our sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces, cousins, spouses and friends. And for those of us who are parents, this could be your daughter. I do not have any children of my own, but if I did have a daughter, I would make it my duty to make sure that she knows the ugliness that people are crafty at hiding. But more importantly, listen to her and watch for signs that she is in trouble and reaching out. Often, we do not realize what once was until it is too late and hindsight is always 20/20. But perhaps we can adjust our vision to see what is right in front of us.
Hannah’s tragedy is fictional, but she represents what some of us will go through in life. Her life ended in a most tragic manner before she had a chance to fully live. And although she is a fictional character, that does not take away from the messages that the filmmakers and stars of the show are conveying to us. Robert F. Kennedy once said that tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not by which to live. If you have yet to watch this show, do so and I guarantee it will reach you in ways you never imagined.
Suicide is never an issue to be taken lightly. If you or anyone you know has had thoughts about suicide or made an attempt to end their life, please be aware that there is help available. You do not have to keep everything inside, reach out and speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are available seven days a week, twenty four hours a day for anyone that needs help.