Monday, 8 May 2017

13 Reasons Why by Keren David

I was in a book shop last week, pretending to browse  but actually watching people at the shelves marked Young Adult.
Several readers bought books while I was there. Some of them made multiple purchases.  It was very clear which book was drawing them in, and selling best.
Katherine Langford as Hannah in 13 Reasons Why 

That book was 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Now a Netflix series (thus the interest) it tells the story of  Hannah, who commits suicide and sends out tapes to 13 people, telling them why she feels they are responsible for her death.  It was a best seller when it was published in the US, and the TV series has brought it to a new audience. The show has drawn criticism for ‘glamourising’ and ‘sensationalising’ suicide, for suggesting that it is a reasonable and inevitable response to bullying and other stresses.  Experts have warned of the dangers of teens watching it alone, at night, when they might be feeling vulnerable.  It has particularly been  attacked for showing in graphic detail, the details of  how Hannah kills herself.  Netflix has responded by adding a ‘trigger warning’ to the show.

I haven’t seen the show, nor have I read the book. But I have written a book which touched on the subject of suicide (Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery) and I have supported my teenage children when an acquaintance, aged 14, killed herself and when another friend  said she was thinking of doing the same.  We talked about the need to tell a responsible adult if you hear threats like this from friends. And we talked about the permanence of suicide, the devastation wreaked on the family left behind, the ways of getting help if needed, and the way in which small troubles can grow if they are never shared.  We looked together at the memorial pages set up, the out-pouring of love on them, and we discussed the difference between life online and reality, the importance of spending time off line, with friends  and family, having fun.  The books that I recommended after those talks were not 13 Reasons Why  or similar. They were escapist fun, romances and comedies.

Should teens be reading and watching 13 Reasons Why?  Schools have sent out letters warning parents about it.  I’m torn. I can see the problems, but I also think it might be a way to get  young adults thinking and talking about these subjects. I’ve seen praise for the series for highlighting the pressure of cyber-bullying.  Friendship is also key to the story. 

Books, films, television series -  all of them can raise awareness, start discussions,  improve understanding. For every child ‘triggered’  - and there will have been any number of ‘reasons why’ already present – 100 more will be considering their own behaviour and how it impacts on  their peers. The people buying the book that I saw at the weekend must have wanted to delve deeper into the story. It's easy to condemn this is morbid, but it might well have great consequences.

As writers  we shouldn't be scared of tackling the hardest subjects. Through our words, as many can be helped as those who could be hurt.

If you need to talk to someone you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 


catdownunder said...

Thanks for this.
Only a couple of days ago I was talking to someone about Jill Paton-Walsh's book, "The Dolphin crossing". When it first came out here school librarians in my state were advised not to put it into their libraries. I wonder whether secondary schools here will say the same of this one.

Rowena House said...

Such a difficult and thought-provoking subject. Thx for sharing.

Penny Dolan said...

Hard and difficult, and a wise post, Keren.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was a fuss about this series as I don't watch any TV, but this morning my daughter told me about the series. She's watching it and thinks it's brilliant. She survived a very nearly fatal suicide bid in her teens, and suffered from mental illness for many years. She is better now, and training in medicine, but she sees no problem with the series. She's alert to triggering and has talked to some of her tutors about how to present material on eg eating disorders when they don't know if any of the students might be sensitive to it. She didn't suggest that the series could be triggering, and welcomed that it deals with a serious issue intelligently and seriously, validating the experiences of desperate teens. She feels there is too little attention to such issues and that alienates and isolates those who are experiencing them. So the fear that we might trigger something regrettable produces a silence that further isolates those who need acknowledgment. A tricky balance to get right.