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May 10, 2017

13 Reason Why or Why Not: A Parent's Dilemma

by Alison DeLuca

13 Reasons Why is a book and a Netflix series. Both are controversial because of the subject - a boy listens to tapes left by a girl, Hanna, who committed suicide. Those tapes explain why she took her own life.
cover of Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Amazon affiliate links are used in this post.

As a parent of a tween who really wants to read 13 Reasons Why and watch the show, I have to carefully consider both. My dilemma is should I let her?

I have to consider several things:

  • Our town has experienced a recent spike in teen suicides.
  • My parents gave me access to any books I wanted. As long as I could understand them, I could read them.
  • Several people have said the Netflix series glamorizes suicide. One of them is my daughter's age.

sad teenaged girl
photo courtesy of Barn Images

Jay Asher's novel includes not only suicide but also other issues confronting modern teens. These include:

  • Online bullying
  • Gossip and rumors
  • The difficult search for guidance and help
  • Teen sexuality
  • Rape

When I was in middle- and high school, I devoured books like Go Ask Alice. Remember Scholastic books? You got a flimsy pamphlet from your teacher, begged three bucks from mom, and a few weeks later was handed a pile of new paperbacks. I always ordered titles like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Lisa Bright and Dark.
cover of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Anyone remember this?

Looking back, those books were more innocent than 13 Reasons Why. There were no explicit scenes, either of outright sexuality or graphic violence. However, those books raised my awareness of drugs and the dark side of being an adolescent. Was that a good thing?

And how should I proceed, now that I'm a parent?

My own parents' laissez-faire attitude isn't appropriate here, I feel. However, I do want to have an open dialogue with my daughter about scary stuff like online bullying, suicidal thoughts, and the horrifying possibility of rape and date rape.

While the books I read were more innocent, our problems (although very intense at the time) were also more innocent. Sure, there was bullying - but it wasn't spread online. Pictures didn't go viral overnight, and rumors didn't spread with the click of a mouse.
teen girl looking at phone
photo courtesy of StockSnap

My conclusion is this needs to be a shared journey. My daughter and I need to read 13 Reasons Why together. As for the show, the jury's still out. If we do end up watching it, it will be accompanied by popcorn and plenty of family conversation.

Buy 13 Reasons Why on Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
 Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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  1. I think that you're smart to read the book with your daughter. As an adult and reader of YA fiction, I loved the book. As a former crisis counselor who worked with suicidal teens, it scares me. The main issue I see with the book is that many people who contemplate suicide want to get "revenge" on the people who hurt them, and Hannah does that in this book. Everyone gets outed for their bad deeds, and everyone is sorry. The second thing that bugs me is that Hannah tries to talk to her counselor, but her counselor brushes her off, and she never tries again. Anyone who's contemplating suicide may get the message that it's no use trying to get help anyway. I haven't seen the series, but I've heard it's more graphic than the novel.

    On a lighter note, I was nominated for the Mystery Blogger award, and now I nominate you. You don't have to accept you don't want to, but it was fun to do. You can read about it on my blog, if you're interested.
    Doree Weller

    1. Thank you so much! I'll dash over and have a look.

      And thank you as well for your unique take on the novel. Those are great insights, and I'm going to keep them in mind as we read the book.

  2. Having neither read the book or watched the show (except for the suicide scene out of context), the research I've done is that the book doesn't really discuss the suicide (in fact, it hardly mentions the act itself), and is more focused on the events that led to it. I agree with Doree that the premise of the book is flawed—for me, because it completely fails to address the mental instability and illness (usually depression) that accompanies suicide. Bullying, shaming and rape doesn't itself lead to suicide—but those things happening to someone with a serious mental illness can convince them taking their life is worth it.

    That being said, the book does address other important issues that teens have to deal with, and for that alone it should be commended. Definitely read it with her, and definitely talk about it. Personally, I would give the show a miss, or if you do watch it, be prepared for a graphic, yet extremely unrealistic (and yes, glamorizing), suicide scene.

    1. Oh, my goodness. I think you just made up my mind for me on the show. What a shame - it could have been a helpful series for teens navigating those frightening waters.

  3. You have raised pertinent questions. Parents face such a dilemma...
    Sad that there's such an alarming increase in suicides.
    It's fine if we can raise awareness and help prevent them, certainly not glamorize or be their champion. As a the mom of a teenager, I'm concerned. All the best to everyone.

  4. I have a teenage grandson and think that your approach to this book is the right way to go. Kids this age know way more than we did at their age and this movie is one of the main things that kids are talking about right now. I think that reading the book with your daughter along with some healthy discussion is the best way to handle the dilemma.

    1. Thanks, Susan!

      Yes, my main dilemma is "but everyone's watching the show." Luckily it's starting to die down a bit. We are reading the book, but I think we're going to give the show a miss - especially after I've read the helpful insights in these comments.

  5. My parents had no idea what I was reading once I started buying my own books at a local book exchange. At twelve, I got The Exorcist, because I loved horror. The person at the desk almost refused to sell it to me, but I lied and told her my parents wouldn't mind. Boy, was that an eye-opener! But it is still one of my favorite books of all time, these days because I can appreciate just how beautiful the writing is. Blatty is an artist.

    I read 13 Reasons Why several years ago and had no memory of the story when the Netflix show became available. Which was good, because I think not knowing what comes next made the show more enjoyable for me. I have a 13-year-old daughter. I would let her read the book first before seeing the show. The show is extremely graphic and my daughter is not one to pick scary movies to watch for fun.

    So I think you are doing the right thing by reading the book together and talking about the issues. The media response to the TV shows is interesting. I would hate to see these shows spark more suicide attempts, but as an author, I don't think it is fair that a book or show involving suicide be held responsible as a teaching device to be applied to any suicides or suicide prevention. That sort of thing might be a by-product of some art, but it shouldn't be a requirement.

    1. Tamara, we had the same reading experiences! I'll never forget reading The Exorcist. And I agree - Blatty is a wonderful author; the scariest sections, to me, were the priest's inner torments and memories.

  6. I've heard about 13 Reasons Why, but I don't know much aside from how it made my sil uncomfortable (as someone who has considered suicide and self harm before). When I was in HS, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden was one of a few choices I had for required reading and was one of the books I ended up choosing. I don't really remember it that much, but I do remember that it was one of the more emotionally charged books that I read in hs. I think it's good to capture a child or teen's interest with emotional books, but I also think they need to be discussed with someone more mature. I think it's a great idea for you to read the book with your daughter and talk through the issues. It will allow you to remind her that should she ever face any of the issues in the book (reminder: I haven't read it), she can come talk to you. That's just my opinion, though. And who knows? After reading the book, she may not want to see the tv show.

    With Love,

  7. Thanks, Mandy. Good point - and the furor over the show seems to be dying down already.

    And now I want to reread Rose Garden. It's such an amazing book.