Discussion: Thirteen Reasons Why // Realistic or Ridiculous?

thirteen reasons why

At this point, everyone knows what Thirteen Reasons Why is. Maybe you read it when it first came out at the height of the scene/emo days. Maybe you read it when you found out that it was being turned into a Netflix show. Maybe you’ve just seen the show (I haven’t yet). But everyone knows what it is. About how it’s a book about a dead girl telling her thirteen reasons why she killed herself.

I’m not going to write a review for this book. I don’t feel the need or inclination to. There are thousands of reviews for it on Goodreads if that is what you are after. This discussion post may have the flavorings of a review but I’m not writing a post about what I thought about the characters or the pacing of the plot or any of the other literary points I try to hit when writing reviews. I’m writing about the themes. Or just one theme in particular.

To be quite honest, I am mind blown by how many reviewers gave negative reviews saying that Hannah’s thirteen reasons are invalid; that she was overdramatic and unrealistic; that she did not portray a suicidal teen correctly; and you can guess the other reasons that have been given. And, sure, if you do not think deeper into the storyline or if you have never experienced scenarios that were given in the book, I can see where those reviewers are coming from. I can see that fifteen year old me (approximately what I was when this book was released) would’ve thought the same thing. I would’ve thought her to be weak, a coward; I probably would’ve hated her.

But twenty-four year old me disagrees. I wish that the deeper backstory and underlying issues would’ve been explored throughout Hannah’s thirteen sides to her cassette tapes. Because I truly think that many readers are not seeing it at all. Hannah’s depression needed to be discussed. She needed to say that she had it, or at least contemplate the possibility. Instead Hannah’s thirteen reasons come across as petty, vindictive, revenge-fueled on the surface. I’ve seen a couple of reviews mentioning Hannah’s depression but it’s been quickly dismissed and deemed to be unrealistic and insulting to those who suffer with it.

Depression doesn’t have to look a certain way. There are general symptoms, yes. But it doesn’t have to look the way that is acceptable in society’s eyes. It doesn’t have to fit in with how other depressed people look or act in order to be deemed valid. It doesn’t have to have the same reasons that other people do. Some people are just born depressed—there are no reasons. Some people have a major event in their life that changes them forever and leaves them carrying sorrow for the rest of their life which compounds any other disappointing events they experience later. Some people’s bodies just one day don’t work right and cause them to have a chemical imbalance.

My point is that too many readers are focusing on the surface and criticizing Hannah. But if this story were true—and somewhere in this world it is—you cannot discount Hannah’s feelings and motivations. It’s very hard to understand something that you have never experienced. And perhaps it’s even harder when you have but it doesn’t look the same way that yours does. And something that seems so trivial to one person is life-changing for another. Hannah claims her feelings originated with Justin starting rumors about her and how “easy” she was. Maybe it did. And maybe there was something previously that she could never bring herself to say, even in her tapes. But sometimes something as simple as that spirals into something more just as Hannah experienced. She lost her friends. She lost her reputation. She was treated as an object rather than a human being. She lost herself. After years of feeling alone, after years of feeling repeated rejection, Hannah was done.

Yes, she seemed like she pushed herself into it, even to me. She got to the point where she wanted to end it. She didn’t want any help in the end—she wanted to be pushed over the edge. And maybe it seems vindictive and wrong to send those tapes out after she killed herself. But maybe Hannah wanted people to know that she wasn’t just crazy—that she had reasons. Reasons that she needed to tell but couldn’t say when she was alive. So many people suffer in silence because they cannot bring themselves to say it. So many people are passed by every day without anyone asking them if they are okay because they do not look the way you’re supposed to look when you’re depressed. And some people are afraid to say how they feel because others—like those reviewers—will tell them how they feel is invalid, wrong, overdramatic, etc., etc. If Hannah had managed to speak up, if she had told someone her reasons before it was too late, do you think any of them would’ve helped her? Do you think her life would’ve turned out differently? I’m not so sure that it would’ve.

I know that Hannah’s story is fiction. I know that there are many other topics that could be highlighted with this book—but I am not a psychology major. I’m not going to pretend I know a bunch of stuff that I don’t and analyze every aspect of this book. I’m talking about what I felt I could shed some light on. I’m offering another perspective on this polarizing book. One that is perhaps buried if anyone has brought it up at all. Thanks for reading.