Sunday, May 7, 2017

An E-mail that Backfired and 13 Reasons Why

My phone buzzed with an incoming e-mail message in Friday night. The message came from the school district about a Netflix series: 13 Reasons Why. This message detailed why it might be dangerous for teens to watch the show and gave several reasons not to watch the show.

I had seen the show advertised on Netflix, read some small snippet about it, and had already decided not to watch it. But, something about the e-mail pushed a button inside me. The wording of it brought me back to my own high school experiences. It reminded me of a well-intentioned school counselor who was actually the unwitting accomplice to one of the biggest gossip and slander circles in my small town. I decided I didn't want to let rumor or hearsay make my choices for me. I wanted to see the show for myself.

I watched two episodes that night and three the next night. My oldest daughter (18 and graduating soon) was home while my youngest and my husband were in Canada for a kayaking regatta. We both tried to analyze the show and use the school district's warnings to do so.

Did it glorify or romanticize suicide? No. It might romanticize revenge, but not suicide. We thought that it might be a stretch for a teenage girl in the midst of suicidal depression to do something so rationally planned as to record 13 tapes designated for those who caused her pain. The amount of time along with the amount of pain she is in seemed to indicate to both of us that the tapes, if someone made something like that, might not have the same "rationality" that is implied in the show. However, in the second episode, we are given reason to doubt the validity of Hannah's truths. We start to wonder if she is an untrustworthy narrator, or if the listener of the tapes is an untrustworthy narrator. I thought this was very well-played and made the situation far more realistic.

Does the show portray adults as absent or ineffectual? (another school district concern) Adults are definitely involved in the characters' lives. Many of them show genuine concern and attempt to help the characters. However, some of the adults are well-intentioned but clueless, and some are knowledgeable but can't seem to get through to the characters. This struck me as realistic. I've been the daughter and friend of suicidally depressed individuals. Even when those of us around those individuals care deeply, our words are not always heard and our attempts to change the course of someone else's decisions do not often feel effective. In addition to those experiences, I was bullied throughout my school years and I did not find adults who were able to help. Even my parents who tried really hard just made the situation worse and I stopped looking for adult help by the time I reached fifth grade. (There is more to my story than I can possibly begin to unpack here so I won't, but let's just say it didn't just involve same-age bullying and school bullying. This was a community issue.)

The show is compelling; there are some pretty huge hooks that lead the viewer into wanting to watch episode after episode, and as the show continued I found more and more parallels to the type of bullying I experienced as a middle school and high school student. For me, as a post-bullied adult, I started to struggle with my own emotional reaction to the memories that this show dragged to the surface for me. So, again, I think it has some realism in the midst of some of the teen movie tropes that are apparent from the onset of this show.

I went online to find out more about the show and its creation. Guess what? It's a book. You probably already knew that, but I didn't. I found this article about Jay Asher, the author, and the original ending. In this interview, I discovered several more compelling reasons to watch the show and to find the book. Jay Asher's own backstory for writing this book gave me a reason to want to read it and finish watching the show.

So, I've given six reasons to watch 13 Reasons Why and I plan to revisit this in the next month or so, as I finish the series, find the book, and read the book.

Meanwhile, the Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life blog tour is going strong and adding stops, so please come on by these this week:

May 7 - Ronel - Interview with Multiple Authors
May 8 - Bish Denham - Guest Post
May 8 - Patricia Lynne - Guest Post 
May 9 - ChemistKen - Guest Post
May 10 - M.J. Fifield - Guest Post

Hero Lost
Mysteries of Death and Life
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Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero’s redemption!

Have you watched or read 13 Reasons Why? And, what happens when you read a warning label for a show or book? Does it drive you away or make you curious? Does it depend on how that warning is worded?

BTW - I think the Hero in 13 Reasons Why is definitely lost so it kind of fits the Hero Lost blog tour days in a seriously stretched way.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Glad you decided that you liked the show. I will probably watch it too. My daughter and I both read it when she was in high school. I really liked it, although the topic is sad. And I met Jay Asher at a writing conference. He was all set to give up writing after years and years of trying to get published if this one didn't make it. His story was very inspiring.

krystal jane said...

If I read contemporary, it does tend to be this kind of contemporary. The show isn't quite on my radar, but this actually sounds pretty interesting. I would be interested to hear what you think of the entire thing. I'm very much a "see for myself" kind of person, as well.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Natalie - I haven't watched all of it yet and for some reason episode 6 struck me as a bit off. However, I'm hoping the rest will match the level of the first five episodes. It's full of tough topics, but worthwhile ones to discuss.

Krystal - it's not my usual reading genre, but I like to pick up different books at different times. I'll let you know what I think at the end of it.

Lynda R Young said...

I haven't seen it yet. I've been trying to avoid that kind of darkness in my life at the moment. But after reading your post, I kinda want to watch it now.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's a real issue kids have dealt with for years. A heavy topic, but kids need to see all sides of it. I don't need that darkness right now either, but I'm glad you took the time to watch it.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I read the book waaaaay back when it first came out and thought it was great. I watched a few episodes of the show but it didn't grab me. I'd rather go back and re-read the book. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not sure I want that level of depression, but glad you bucked the directions and watched anyway.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

My daughter and I watched it together. I wouldn't show it to high school students in school but I'm sure millions of them watched it on their own devices. I'm sorry you were bullied in school. My high school experience was different. I feel my own children were protected by having so many siblings there was always someone there to look out for them and I was there as a teacher also. One of my boys was suspended from school for standing up to a bully though the bully was suspended for longer and had a black eye.

cleemckenzie said...

I read the book and found it excellent, but so terribly sad. I haven't watched the series.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I haven't read the book or seen the show. I'll have to check it out.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Lynda - I would wait until the right time. It is pretty grim and I haven't finished watching it yet. Supposedly, the end gets worse. So ... I will be taking it slowly and seeing if I want to watch all of it.

Diane - Yes, it is a real issue and needs to be discussed. I understand about not wanting that kind of darkness. I just the last three months reading and watching fairly light-hearted material - with the exception of a few action shows that went a little more grim than I expected.

Madeline - Good to know. I'm getting the book from the library.

Alex - sometimes, I think it's a good thing and sometimes not. With a few teens of my own, it seemed like I should be informed.

Susan - I think it's the kind of show that needs to be watched "with" someone and discussed and not watched alone - especially for teens. I think it's awesome that your kids were able to protect one another and others from bullying.

C.Lee - Yes, it is terribly sad. I think it's interesting that the author changed the original, more hopeful ending, into something darker.

Elizabeth - just remember, it comes with a heavy warning label because it's definitely grim.

Stephanie Faris said...

13 Reasons Why was a great, great, GREAT book!!! It actually was required reading in one of the English classes here. I'm not sure I'll watch the show...I just think I'd prefer to stick with the great impression the book left on me a couple of years ago. I blew through it in almost one sitting, it was so good!

Heather R. Holden said...

Haven't seen the show, since I don't have Netflix, but I remember hearing good things about the book when it first came out. Am tempted to check it out someday, since suicidal depression is something I explore in my own projects, and sometimes feel my own mental health careen toward. Hope the show continues to be compelling for you, and that the book lives up to expectations whenever you get the chance to read it!

Bish Denham said...

I've heard of the book, but haven't read it. Now I'm curious. It's awful you were bullied in school. I was teased, but not badly, though at the time it wasn't fun. Bullying takes things to a whole different level.

Erika Beebe said...

I really like how you thought back to your own questions as a teen and gave the show the benefit of the doubt. I haven't seen it or heard of the book either. It somehow knowing a book is out there with a story to tell makes me want to read it too :)

Chemist Ken said...

To be honest, I'd never heard of the show before this. There have been a couple of students who committed suicide at our kids' high school, so I can see why parents might want to see this. Thanks for the heads up.