13 Reasons Why: A Compelling Teenage Mystery

13 Reasons Why
Photo Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix

13 Reasons Why Series Premiere Plot Summary:

After Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) ends her life, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) attempts to find out why. 

I read Jay Asher’s novel, 13 Reasons Why, when I was in high school. I was probably about 16 and the book floored me. While I hate terror and suspense, I love mystery and anticipation. 13 Reasons Why, the novel, kept me on the edge of my seat and dragged the mystery out; why was Clay given the tapes? What did he do?

To be honest, I don’t remember many details now, which really helped when watching “Tape 1, Side A.” Normally when watching an adaptation of a book, I am quick to point out every flaw, inaccuracy, and divergence from the source material. I am a stickler and it usually leads to a “meh” feeling about the final product. But 13 Reasons Why had enough years between the reading of the book and the watching of the adaptation, for which I am grateful.

Before settling in to watch the first episode, I wondered how Hannah’s tape narration would work in this medium. Usually narrations get somewhat tedious in television, especially if the person speaking isn’t adept at it. For example, Kristen Bell’s narrations on Veronica Mars were A+ work. She delivered the well-written lines with perfect timing and cadence to enhance the scene/episode/series. On the flipside, Burn Notice is a great example of a show that was severely hindered by clunky narration. (This is not to say Burn Notice would have been any good without a narration, just that the narration made it worse.)

13 Reasons Why has hit a nice balance of narration from Hannah, making me almost wish there was more of it. I greatly enjoyed this first episode. I felt the same goosebumps of anticipation and the same knot of anxiety in my stomach as when I read the book. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next and I want to keep watching until the season is finished.

The characters aren’t crazy special. They don’t have too much depth to them, past somewhat stereotypical high school clichés. Even the actions and grievances committed against Hannah do not press the bounds of stereotypes. But that doesn’t really matter here and it’s also not to say that is a bad thing. The first episode was gripping and interesting, even if there have been a million and one Clay Jensens smattered all over the young adult entertainment realm.

In high school, the novel made me somewhat nervous though. A student a year older than me committed suicide a few months before I started 13 Reasons Why. What if someone who felt depressed or suicidal read this book? Would they feel comforted to know there are other people who feel the same way, that they are not alone? Or would it romanticise the idea of suicide and grand gestures and creating a quasi-legacy?

I had the same thoughts while watching “Tape 1, Side A.” There is a line, as there are with most things, that is difficult to balance. Depression, suicide, bullying, etc. should be spoken about more freely. People should be able to educate themselves on these things to prevent it, help others and treat it. But mental illness and revenge shouldn’t be romanticised. I’m not very sure where 13 Reasons Why sits on that line, though from “Tape 1, Side A” it seems to be toeing romanticising.

As an hour of television, 13 Reasons Why was awesome. It draws you in and is just slow enough to be compelling and keep you watching. I wouldn’t recommend this show to everyone, especially anyone in middle school or high school. (Of course, I could be overreacting and someone will point out that I am being insensitive to even follow this line of thought.)

Either way, I’m going to go watch more episodes and see how the whole thing turns out.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

12 REASONS WHY IS STREAMING ON NETFLIX

Marley Ghizzone is the current music editor and former Breaking News Editor for The Pop Break. Aside from writing news, Marley reviews television shows and the odd film. Pop culture is her drug of choice and her talents include binge watching entire seasons of TV shows obsessively fast and crying over fictional characters. Marley is a graduate of Rowan University. Follow her on twitter: @marleyveee