A quick look down the titles of our teens’ favourite books shows that many of these popular titles have been translated into film. Perhaps the popularity of the books led to the making of the film or inversely, the popularity of the film led to increased readership of the book. In all likelihood it is probably a bit of both. So while many YA books have been made into films fewer have been made into television series. It was with interest then that I sat down to watch the adaptation of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
In brief Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker who commits suicide but leaves a series of cassette tapes detailing the events that led to her suicide. The novel is split into thirteen sections with each section telling the story found on one side of a cassette tape, likewise each episode in the series is one side of a tape. Film adaptations generally struggle to include all the events and nuance contained in a book. Creating a series allowed time for more exposition of secondary characters allowing greater depth. Hannah’s parents are hardly mentioned in the book, here we see their anguish. In the book we are given the actions of the stereotyped bullies, in the series we are given backstory and emotion. The series is beautifully constructed with a haunting soundtrack and seamless transitions between points of view. I would go so far as to say that the series is more complex, more nuanced and better crafted than the book.
The difficulty I have with the series is that it is thirteen hours where we are immersed in this high school world knowing that Hannah commits suicide and nothing is going to change that. It is difficult to spend thirteen hours contemplating futility.