Thirteen Reasons Why – the novel vs. the show

Thirteen Reasons Why — the latest global obsession, and trending phenomenon. Originally a novel that was published back in 2007 by then not-so-famous American writer Jay Asher, TRW became the talk of the town after Netflix released a 13-episode show of the same name — and the same story, to a certain extent – in March 2017.

TRW is a tale of teenage challenges, love, despair, and depression, as young Hannah Baker explains in the most dramatic manner imaginable the thirteen reasons that made her put an end to her life. Before committing suicide, Hannah records her ‘reasons’ in cassette tapes in an orderly fashion and initiates a vicious cycle that takes into its grip the lives of those addressed through the tapes. With Hannah’s tapes, the selected listeners are obliged to follow two simple rules, or face the consequences:

  1. Keep listening
  2. Pass the tapes on to the next person on the list

In Netflix’s adaptation of the novel that is being regarded as a hit all over the world, Katherine Langford stars as Hannah Baker. Dylan Minnette plays the role of Clay Jensen who is Hannah’s long-time admirer, colleague, peer, and the co-protagonist of the show (and the novel). The show had Christian Navarro acting as Tony, Miles Heizer as Alex Standall, Alisha Boe as Jessica Davis, Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley, to name a few cast members.

With fairly high ratings awarded by various critics—8.6 by IMDb, 9.5 by, and 86% by Rotten Tomatoes—the show left audiences worldwide stunned because of its intense plot, brilliant acting, and music that keeps one hooked. Though the show has been criticized in some circles for being too dark, depressed, and is being held responsible for romanticizing or justifying suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why has been able to attain significant fan-following at a global scale, and is pretty much expected to return in the coming years with new episodes.

Anyone who has gone through the novel prior to watching the show is bound to experience changes in the main plot. The original story has been tampered to a certain extent by the show producers in order to keep the audiences at the edge of their seats, and, of course, in order to sell the novel’s plot to the demanding television audience. Whether the changes introduced in the TV show are to result in appraisal or disappointment from the ones having experienced the novel is an entirely subjective take, it won’t be wrong to state that the show’s producers have taken a progressive approach towards the story, giving it new twists and turns making it an experience of its own kind.

As a bibliophile, I personally found the very novel quite gripping. Unable to resist all the hype around me, I headed to the bookstore and got hold of the publication, and finished the 288-page read in almost 48 hours as it truly was pretty hard to put down:the novel was with me in my car as I waited outside the doctor’s clinic, it was with me all the time while I sat in my chair at the office, and it was in my hands when I joined my folks at the dining table – resulting in cold looks and rebuke, obviously. Overall, it proved to be a different, but fascinating read.

Getting to witness the show after finishing the novel, I could not resist not taking note of the changes made in the entire story. Below are some major differences between the novel and the show (spoiler alert):

  1. In the novel, Clay finishes listening to the tapes in one day – in the show, he finds a hard time listening to them and takes several days to get done
  2. In the novel, there was no lawsuit filed by Hannah’s parents against the school
  3. In the novel, Hannah committed suicide by taking pills – not by slitting her wrists as depicted in the show
  4. In the novel, Hannah’s parents went out of town following their daughter’s suicide, their store was closed since several days
  5. In the novel, Tony opens-up about the tapes with Clay while the latter was on Cassette 5: Side A (his own tape) – in the show, Tony tells Clay that he knows about the tapes in the very first episode
  6. In the novel, Sheri Holland from the show is (named) Jenny Kurtz
  7. In the novel, Clay is the ninth person in Hannah’s list – in the show, he is at number eleven
  8. In the novel, Hannah’s poem (published in Lost-N-Found magazine) is named as ‘Soul Alone’, and is completely different from the one in the show

Other than these changes, it kind of felt like Hannah’s narration in the show could have been made more impactful: it sounded as if any bored teenage girl was telling the story of her miserable life. As I went through the novel, I imagined Hannah Baker’s voice with a certain spine-tingling chill in it—the tone of a suicidal person having no care about the world. But as a debutant, one has to admit that Langford’s acting as the troubled teenage girl was indeed spot-on. The music, sound effects, and cinematography also greatly added to the overall worth of the show.

Though it’s tough to pin-point a winner between the two media that tell the truly gripping story in their own uniquely-admirable manner, I would greatly encourage anyone interested in the show to grab the novel and give it a read as I am certain that it will serve to enhance the excitement entailing this one-of-its-kind tale.

All those putting this powerful story in bad light must realize that it is important to talk about bullying, to put an end to this menace before it evolves into total disaster and destroys someone’s life along with greatly affecting those of several others. After all, in the words of Jay Asher: “Everything… affects everything”.

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