'13 Reasons Why': The Biggest Changes From the Book

9:00 AM 4/5/2017

by Lexy Perez

The best-selling YA book debuted on Netflix on March 31 with a 13-episode miniseries.

13 Reasons Why - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first season of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why.]

After its debut a decade ago, Jay Asher’s New York Times best-selling YA novel continues to resonate with many readers for its' depiction of teen bullying and suicide. The series centers on high school student Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette in the Netflix adaptation) whom is delivered cassettes from his recently deceased classmate and friend, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Despite killing herself in earlier weeks, Hannah details the 13 reasons she decided to take her own life through audiotapes she left for Clay and others to listen to.

Selena Gomez serves as executive producer of the Netflix show and, like many readers, connected with the story and fought to have Asher’s novel adapted for the screen. "I see myself as Hannah so much," she told The Hollywood Reporter . "I wanted it to feel like anyone can see themselves in this."

After news confirming Asher's novel was set to hit the screen, bookworms have anticipated the series adaptation, creating pressure for the drama's writers and exec producers to remain loyal to the story. While every adaptation tries to avoid straying from the novel, it’s never guaranteed. THR takes a look at the onscreen changes the series made that departed from the thought-provoking novel. 

  • The Series Takes Place in a Modern Setting

    The novel was published ten years ago, when social media wasn’t as prominent as it is today in the lives of young teens and adults. In Asher’s book, the negative events plaguing Hannah are influenced by rumors spread by the word of her classmates. In contrast, the series is set in a more modern time with Hannah facing cyber bullying and text messages. 

  • The Plot is Broadened

    In the novel, Clay listens to Hannah’s tapes in 24 hours. In the series, Clay takes his time listening to the tapes over a few weeks. 

  • The Perspectives of Multiple Characters are Depicted

    The novel centers on Clay and his memories of Hannah. While he listens to her narration of her other classmates, readers are never able to meet those characters separate from Hannah’s words. In the series, the characters are introduced and the effect the tapes have on them is also depicted. Various story arcs are also explored with Justin Foley’s (Brandon Flynn) difficult upbringing, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe) confronting her rape, Courtney Crimson’s (Michele Selene Ang) struggle with her sexuality, etc. While the focal point of the series is Hannah’s narration, the series explores how her story has affected her selected classmates and their struggle with confronting the parts they played in Hannah’s fatal decision. 

  • Psychological Issues are Examined

    Apart from focusing on the difficulties Hannah faced throughout the series, Clay mentally struggles with Hannah’s story. He begins having nightmares and hallucinations of Hannah, with his parents ultimately advising him to take medication for his issues. Although it is suggested that he dealt with past struggles, the reasoning is never explained in the series. In the novel, there was no indication that Clay suffered any previous issues with hallucinations. Other characters also deal with this too, such as Jessica, who suffers from a form of PTSD and uses alcohol to repress her pain. 

  • A Thorough Investigation Takes Place

    Straying from the novel's focus on Clay and Hannah, the series features a police investigation on the struggling teen's suicide. Desperate to understand why their daughter took her own life, Hannah’s parents (Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James) pursue an investigation and take her suicide to court. After Hannah’s mother finds a sheet in Hannah’s room where she wrote down the names of various classmates featured on her tapes, the police begin questioning each of them to assess their relationship with Hannah. Clay’s mom (Amy Hargreaves) serves as an attorney in their case.

  • Tony Becomes a More Prominent Character

    Readers are only introduced to Tony prior to Clay listening to Tape 4. While not featured in the tapes, Hannah confided to Tony (Christian Navarro) to guard the second set of tapes she made and ensure her tapes are delivered to each person featured on them. In the series, Tony follows Clay around to make sure he’s okay and still listening to the tapes. Tony serves as the series’ middleman, dedicating himself to protecting Hannah’s story as a promise to her.  

  • Clay Fights for Justice

    In the novel, readers only imagine Clay listening to the tapes in one night. The series places emphasis more on Clay's reaction to each of Hannah's stories. Although finding it difficult, Clay begins to take matters in his own hands and defend Hannah’s honor. He confronts each person featured on the tape and threatens to expose their secrets. In her tapes, Hanna reveals that Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) raped both Jessica and herself. To ensure he suffers from his assault, Clay manipulates Bryce into confessing raping Hannah. After being asked by Jessica to not reveal her rape to the police, Clay delivers the tapes to Mr. Porter (Derek Luke), the school counselor Hannah tried to confide in on her final day. 

  • Tony Tells Hannah’s Parents the Truth

    Despite trying to stay true to his promise of keeping her secrets, Tony decides to tell Hannah’s parents about Hannah’s tapes and provides them with a copy of them for them to listen to their daughter’s words. At the end of the series, they are seen listening to her tapes. In the novel, Tony only appears to offer Clay support. 

  • Alex Attempts Suicide

    Departing from the novel, the series takes a dark approach with detailing how much Hannah's tapes affected her classmates. Unable to deal with the aftermath of her narration of their relationship, Hannah’s former friend Alex (Miles Heizer) attempts to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. The series ends with him in critical condition, with viewers never knowing whether he survives. 

  • A Different Take on Hannah’s Ending

    While it’s only alluded to in the novel, Hannah is known to have committed suicide from an overdose of pills. While tragic, the series takes a darker approach by having Hannah slit her writs in a bathtub.