The Real Message Behind '13 Reasons Why'

The Real Message Behind '13 Reasons Why'

I once interviewed '13 Reasons Why' author Jay Asher. This is what he said about his book.


I'm on the second episode of 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series based on the hit novel by Jay Asher. I want to binge but I'm watching it with my mom, and we don't watch enough shows or movies together anymore so I'm refraining. I like it. I love Tony's car, and I love Clay's family dynamic. I have some gripes with the show—specifically, Hannah being a stock character (her name was Alaska Young in John Green's Looking for Alaska.)

I read 13 Reasons Why when I was in the 8th grade, so I already have a general idea what is going to happen. Back then I compulsively read books about mental illness, especially suicide. The topic has always been a point of curiosity for me, especially after I was personally faced with it. It's impossible to fully understand the feelings needed to drive someone to end their own life unless you've been there yourself. And even when those feelings subside, you don't forget. You never forget. The nature of those feelings intrigued me, so I read books about them.

I've already written about It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, which absolutely empowered me to get to where I am today. You can read that article here. As for 13 Reasons Why, it didn't resonate with me like some other works did, but it was good, yeah. I thought it was a respectable book.

Back then I was a part of this blog called "Teens Writing for Teens." We had guest authors do online interviews sometimes, and I thought it was worth a shot to send Jay Asher some questions in hopes that he would respond. He responded. You can find the entire interview here. I'd like to look at one of his responses in particular:

Andrew: Thirteen Reasons Why is a very serious novel. Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?

Jay Asher: As Hannah says, you never know what’s going on in anyone’s life but your own. Someone who looks like they have it all together may actually be going through quite a lot. And everyone handles life’s pressures differently. While Hannah herself is not without fault, it still all comes down to the Golden Rule. So that’s the main thing I was trying to say. Always treat people with respect because you never know what else they’re dealing with. As well, I want people who are hurting to realize how important it is for them to honestly reach out for help.

I've seen many tweets, Facebook statuses, texts, memes, and real life interactions discussing the meaning and morality behind 13 Reasons Why. The show has been accused of glamorizing and even encouraging suicide. Hannah wants to go out with a bang, one last middle finger to everyone she thought contributed to her death. She wants revenge. I get that, and I understand how some people may not like it.

But that is not why Jay Asher wrote 13 Reasons Why.

Have you heard the story of Ryan Patrick Halligan? He hung himself after being harassed online and in real life. What about Megan Meier? She hung herself too after a fake account was created by the MOTHER OF HER FORMER FRIEND to deceive, trick, and ultimately humiliate her. Tyler Clementi? He jumped off a bridge when his roommate spread a secret video of him kissing a man. Amanda Todd—surely you must know of her. She committed suicide after a disturbed internet psycho shared nude pictures of her time and time again. Jamie Hubley? Phoebe Prince? The list of young people, reduced only to names, driven to suicide by bullying feels endless. Something must change.

It's in the Golden Rule.

Yes, these children had severe mental health issues. Yes, it was their decision in the end. But it is utterly ridiculous to argue that the lies, rumors, and cyberbullying on the scale that Hannah faces do not directly contribute to her decision. She was mistreated, constantly. She was wronged, constantly.

This happens. This is real. Teenagers do this to their peers. And kids die because of it. And the tapes are cruel and messed up, but that part is real, too. Stuff like that really happens.

If you're caught up on the tapes, you aren't looking at the big picture. Hannah's tapes are literally commentary on the very, very real problems that killed her, that kill real people. Hannah's message—the entire point of the show—is that you have an effect on people around you. Your actions have consequences. Here are the tapes—here is the proof. Here is what you can do better.

Thank you again to Jay Asher, 7 years later, for the interview.

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