In Netflix's Powerful 13 Reasons Why, an Intimating Teen Spirit Rattles the Living
Based on Jay Asher’s novel about a high school rocked by a girl’s suicide, Netflix’s 13-hour, binge-ready 13 Reasons Why is a breakthrough in YA storytelling.
The message may not strike you as radically new — adolescence isn’t so much a phase of life as it is a fissure that swallows us up between childhood and adulthood — but Reasons is more fluidly immersive than such TV classics as Veronica Mars, and it avoids the morbid romanticism of films like The Fault in Our Stars.
If anything, 13 Reasons — which includes Selena Gomez among its executive producers — is closer to a kids’ version of HBO’s superb feminist mystery-melodrama Big Little Lies.
Hannah (Katherine Langford) has left behind tapes revealing what drove her to take her life. Flipping between the past and the present, in which classmate Clay (Dylan Minnette) puzzles out the truth, Reason tackles big issues — bullying, sexism, body-shaming, rape — and reminds us that, to a teen, nothing is trivial: Every flap of a butterfly’s wings can start a hurricane.
Hannah’s death (depicted with a startling, stinging realism) creates a wide web that connects not only friends, frenemies and enemies, but parents and teachers and — approaching through the shadows like spiders who know best how to tie it all up — teams of lawyers.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s voice, from beyond the grave, taunts, accuses and, very rarely, absolves: “Maybe you did something cruel. Or maybe you just watched it happen. Maybe you didn’t even realize you were being cruel. Maybe you didn’t do anything at all—and maybe you should have.”
13 Reasons Why begins streaming Friday on Netflix.