13 Reasons Why Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’ Is Better Than The Book

Annie Knight, staff writer

The following review has spoilers, so make sure you’ve listened to all 13 tapes before preceding.

Which is better: the book or the movie? This great debate has been going on since the beginning of cinema and has yet to be solved. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why published in 2007 is no different.

Netflix picked up Asher’s novel as a TV miniseries that was released on March 31st. Both mediums of the story have received positive buzz. The book even won a top spot on The New York Time’s best sellers list.

The show stays somewhat true to the book in the basic plotline. In both versions Clay is the protagonist and most of the stories told on the tapes are relatively true, but that is where the similarities stop. The book expands on the 288 page novel both literally in lengthy hour-long episodes and in depth making the show an all around better testament to teen suicide and Hannah Baker.

Here are 13 reasons why Netflix’s Thirteen Reason’s Why is better than the book.

Reason 1: Hannah’s characterization.

The book is told in first person from Clay’s perspective, so the only view the reader gets of Hannah is from the tapes Clay is listening to. While the show also revolves around Clay, Netflix uses flash backs to act out the events on the tapes. The past and present blend effortlessly with fantastic acting by leads Dylan Minette (Clay) and Katherine Langford (Hannah). The flashbacks humanize Hannah. On the tapes, she is callous and mean spirited, which makes sense because she made the tapes only days before she ended her own life. This attitude does not do well to make Hannah likable, what she needs to be to deliver the message of the show effectively. The viewer or reader needs to be able to sympathize with her. The show allows them to do that. In the flash backs, we see Hannah slowly transform out of her witty, happy self into a person devoid of life.

Reason 2: characterization of Clay.

Asher’s Clay is just as remorseful of his actions against Hannah, though they were minor, just as much as Netflix’s Clay, but Netflix does a better job of explaining why he never made a move. In the show, Clay has anxiety. It isn’t clear how bad it is, but Clay’s parents try to convince him to go back on his meds following Hannah’s death. His anxiety may or may not be socially related, but it is definitely a possibility. Clay is pictured in the show as unbearably socially awkward and clueless when it comes to girls. Nice is about all we get to describe Asher’s Clay. In fact, in the novel Hannah says she only went to Jessica’s party to see about Clay’s reputation as mister nice guy. The niceness is not lost on Netflix’s Clay either. He may even be too nice. After receiving the tapes believes it is his responsibility to track down everyone else on the tapes and confront them, which grows old as quick as it is repetitive.

But he doesn’t get away that easy: Clay is often depicted as the bystander of the story. He watches a distraught Hannah run down the halls in flashbacks after Zach or sees somebody take a picture of her butt and does nothing. As the story unravels, so does Clay. He starts to look physically disheveled and has nightmares to the point where he wakes up sweating. He also starts to hallucinate images of Hannah at school. These actions may or may not be a result of the anxiety, but they do have one effect for certain: they make Clay into a better person. He grows bolder throughout the show on his search for justice and he actually starts to say what he feels, something he never did with Hannah.

Reason 3: Clay and Hannah’s relationship.

In both versions of the story Clay and Hannah work at a movie theatre and make out at a party. In the novel, that’s as far as their relationship goes. In the show, the characters grow close at the theatre and hangout on a few occasions outside of school. Both character’s feelings are emphasized through their body language and the occasional longing look. The elaboration on their relationship makes the events of tape 11 all the more devastating because as both stories stress: Clay could have saved Hannah.

Reason 4: Jeff Adkins.

Jeff Adkins is the anonymous “boy from school” as the novel says, that dies in the car crash in tape 10. However, in the show he emerges as comic relief. Jeff is characterized as a senior baseball player whom Clay, a year younger, tutors in history. While Jeff is helpless in school, he does know how to date and tries to tutor Clay in girls. Jeff dies the same night Hannah and Clay make out in both forms of the story. In the show we see Clay finding the wreckage and calling the police, while Hannah was an accomplice to the destroyed stop sign on the corner that caused the whole wreck. When Hannah tries to tell Clay what really happened, he takes one look at her tear stained face and yells at her for making Jeff’s death her drama. This turn of events better explains why Clay doesn’t reach out to Hannah in her last two weeks of life, and why she feels she has no friends, not even Clay, towards the end of her death.

Reason 5: the events on the tapes are exaggerated.

For example, Courtney in the book doesn’t have a story worthy of a tape. She once helped Hannah catch a peeping Tom and then used her as a ride to a party. That’s it. In the show however, Courtney, a closeted lesbian, kisses Hannah while trying to catch said peeping Tom, Tyler, who snaps a picture of it. When Hannah gets a fleeting look at her peeping Tom that same night, she confronts him at school. He asks her out, and when she says no he spreads the picture of Hannah and Courtney around school. This not only leads to the loss of a friend for Hannah, but also Courtney spreading the rumour that it was Hannah and another girl in the, until then anonymous, picture to save her own reputation as straight. While the events in the show may seem somewhat too large scale to happen to one person, the novel’s events are far too down played. They make Hannah come off as petty and hateful in reaction to small events.

Reason 6: Back-stories to the characters.

The novel only includes Hannah and Clay’s perspectives, but in the show every person on the tapes has a plotline. The writers of the show, at times, even make us feel bad for them. The show three-dimensionalizes the names on the tapes and provides some reasoning to their actions. The writers also give a backstory to the high school. Liberty High is not given a passing glance in the novel, it doesn’t even have a name. Liberty is characterized in the show, however, as a small high school with a strict, aggressive social order. The show does fall victim to stereotypes in making out the jocks to be on top and the frequent bad guys of the show, but it does give context to Hannah’s world.

Reason 7: The show tackles the after math of Jessica’s rape.

At first Jessica tries to ignore that it happened at all with the help of Justin’s denial. But, she slowly spirals into substance abuse and begins to act out and provoke Justin to admit what really happened. On a positive note, she eventually comes to terms with what happened to her in the last episode where she begins to open up to her father.

Reason 8: Hannah’s parents.

Hannah’s parents aren’t present in the novel, but in the show they play a huge role. First, the show depicts the after effects of suicide on Hannah’s parents. Their appearances are contrasted starkly in flashbacks when Hannah is living, and the present where they are depicted as distraught and hellbent for answers. Additionally, they play a role in her suicide. The Baker’s own a small drug store that is failing throughout the show. Hannah’s parents are often arguing about money problems and don’t notice her slipping through the cracks. It isn’t entirely their fault because Hannah doesn’t open up to them, but Hannah feels like they don’t have time for her and that they are disappointed in her. This feeling climaxes after Hannah loses $700 she was supposed to drop off at the bank. Their family dynamic helps shed some light on why Hannah didn’t go to her parent’s for help with bullying.

Reason 9: Hannah’s rape.

Tape 12 in both mediums involves Bryce Walker and a hot tub. Bryce, however, is very different depending on which version is being told. In the novel Bryce is a known pervert and Hannah gets into his hot tub knowing that he will molest her. It almost seems like she lets him because she is looking for a reason to end her life. In the show the events in the hot tub unravel in a drastically different manner. Hannah sets out on a walk upset after losing her parents’ money. She hears the siren call of a party from a few blocks away and follow it to drown her sorrows. When she arrives, the party is winding down. She gets in the hot tub with her exfriend Jessica and 4 others. Hannah quickly becomes lost in the stars above, until the hot tub bubbles shut off. When she looks down everyone is gone besides Bryce. Bryce does not have a reputation for being aggressive or a rapist in the show. She attempts to exit the hot tub several times, but fails. The rape scene is uniquely disturbing because the camera only focuses on Hannah’s face and hands. She struggles at first, but eventually her hands slacken and the life drains out of her eyes. The next scene is a chilling shot on Hannah’s slack face as she walks home down a quiet, dark street in drenched clothes.

Throughout the novel Hannah talks about the snowball effect. It started with Justin, who gave her the false reputation of a slut. This principle is present as well in the TV show, though Hannah never talks about it. Instead, it is depicted in the actions of her classmates and their words. Broadly what happens to Hannah is bullying, but the type is more evident in the show. Hannah is really the victim of toxic hyper male sexuality. Justin’s slut-shamming picture spread around the school begins it and the rape ties it up in a neat grotesque bow. It is present in all events on the tapes from guys trying to take pictures of her butt in the background of shots to girls like Courtney justifying their actions against Hannah because, in Courtney’s case, she already has the reputation of a slut.

Reason 10: Hannah gives up early on in the book.

She gives up and begins to comtemplate suicide on tape 5. She makes the list of names for the tapes after her night with Clay. In the show, this point doesn’t come until after her rape where in distraught she writes names and furiously circles Bryce’s until the pencil almost snaps. Hannah also recognizes that she is at risk for suicide in the novel. She even receives a pamphlet in communications about the warning signs of suicide and notices several that apply to her. In contrast, the idea of suicide comes to Hannah in the show when she is circling Bryce’s name and decides, “no one is going to hurt me ever again”. While Asher’s Hannah recognizes the signs and doesn’t help herself, neither does Netflix’s Hannah. To be fair, neither felt they had friends to turn to and Netflix’s Hannah felt alienated from her parents, but neither one sought professional help outside of Mr. Porter, the school counselor, who wasn’t a help at all.

Reason 11: additional themes.

An ongoing theme throughout the show is that we should all be nicer to each other. Clay himself says this to Mr. Porter. Another theme presented in the show is the ignorance of suicide. The school’s reaction to Hannah’s suicide is to hang up posters that say empty sentiments like “you are not alone” and “suicide is not an option.” The posters are the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on the issue without taking any actions to prevent it. This is a symbol for the gloss over suicide gets in the media and entertainment. It is often depicted as romantic, for example in Romeo and Juliet, or is used as a plot device.

Reason 12: Hannah’s suicide.

In the book Hannah says she chose to kills herself with pills. Hannah takes more brutal actions against herself in the show. Her method of suicide, which is pictured, is filling a bathtub with water and then slitting her wrists with razor blades she stole from her parents store. She then lies back, breathing laboriously, while the pink water slowly drips from the rim of the bathtub. The scene accurately depicts what suicide is at its core. It’s ugly. It’s painful. Lastly, it’s heart breaking to watch. The show characterizes Hannah so well, and we see her act out the tapes so often that it’s almost a surprise when she dies at the end. The show toes a fine line between being too gory or cheesy, but they successfully pulled off her suicide scene in a shocking enough manner to clearly convey the message that suicide is not acceptable ever.

Reason number 13: the court case.

The novel ends with Clay passing along the tapes like Hannah said. Clay completes this task in the show, but the ending is more satisfactory as a whole. Hannah’s parents choose to file a lawsuit against the school to get answers. Regardless of that outcome of the lawsuit, Tony gives Hannah’s parents a copy of the tapes so they at least know Hannah’s reasons why. The court case gives the possibility of justice for the particularly bad characters such as Bryce. He is characterized as untouchable since he is the captain of two sports teams and other characters often mention that he has enough money to make the tapes dissapear. However, since Clay has his confession on the new tape he created, tape 14, Bryce might get what he deserves.

Additional tape 14: Alex’s suicide attempt in the last episode.

While the viewers are so focused on Hannah, Alex is also displaying signs of suicide. His tries to punish himself for what he did to Hannah by starting a fist fighting in the street outside of Liberty after almost getting run over by a car. His goal is to get suspended but, instead he is let off the hook and his Dad praises him for supposedly standing up for other kids in the street. Alex is also seen lashing out at other characters, lapsing into depressing moods and saying he has nothing to lose. These seem like somewhat normal reaction following the tapes. But, as Hannah herself says, the signs of suicide don’t look like anything at all. Alex’s suicide could be seen as an attempt to punish himself for what he did. For certain it is a surprise. It goes along with the theme that no one knows what is happening in someone else’s life, which is why we should all be as kind as we can.