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New Netflix series ‘Thirteen Reasons Why” sparks controversy

Illustration | Liam Olson

By Erin Chessin

Last month, Netflix turned Jay Asher’s New York Times Bestseller, “Thirteen Reasons Why, into a popular new series, but not everyone is excited about the outcome. The show has received high ratings and critical acclaim for its cinematography, but people are having different interpretations based on whether they read the books prior to watching the series. Those who have only watched the series are not grasping the brutal struggle with mental illness compared to those who read the books–the extreme differences between the series and Asher’s 2007 novel are apparent.

The biggest changes are within the main character’s portrayal, Hannah Baker, something fans of the book are displeased with. Netflix’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” tells the story of a high school teenager, Clay Jensen, who finds a box of tapes mysteriously on his doorstep one day. He listens to the tapes, which turn out to be a recorded suicide confession from Baker, who committed suicide two weeks prior. There are thirteen tapes, each are meant for a specific person who contributed to her decision to take her own life.

Grace Hall, a freshman environmental science major at HSU, is disappointed to see various differences between the series and the novel she admires.

“The series portrayed the story a lot differently,” said Hall. “People are watching it and are not having the right discussions about it later.”

Hall believes Baker is depicted as “whiny” and “a drama queen” in the series, which is not the same character she remembered from the book.

“It doesn’t highlight the fact that she has a mental illness,” said Hall. “In fact, it’s never even mentioned that she was depressed.”

Some argue Netflix changed too much within the plots, characters and storytelling. For example, the story is told by Jensen in the TV series, whereas Baker narrates all thirteen episodes in the novel. Also, Jensen and Baker are not close in the book, but they are undeniably friends in the series.

Taylor Walters, a freshman business major at HSU, did not read the novel and said she did have a good impression of Baker’s character.

“What I gathered from the show was that she blamed everyone else for her problems when she was the one who caused them,” said Walters.

Walters said the issues that Baker dealt with are common and happen to a lot of teenagers.

“Watching this made me angry,” said Walters. “These are things that happen to a lot of high school kids.”

HSU senior and environmental science major, Andie LeDesma, is upset with how Baker is portrayed on the show.

“Because they didn’t mention that the girl had a mental illness, I wouldn’t be surprised if people said she was whiny or overdramatic,” said LeDesma. “A person who has depression is going to react differently to bullying versus a person who doesn’t have depression.”

LeDesma believes it is important for Netflix viewers to be aware of the main character’s mental illness, otherwise the story gets misconstrued.

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