It’s a brave new world for YA adaptations—and one that allows for microwave popcorn and bathroom breaks. The 13-episode series adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel 13 Reasons Why (Razorbill) premieres on Netflix on March 31. The novel takes place in the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide. Before her death, Hannah Baker recorded messages on cassette tapes for 13 people, implicating each of them in her reasons for ending her life. She leaves the tapes with her friend Clay, who has also betrayed her in some way. The book, which addresses mental health issues, bullying through social media, and how failing to act in another’s defense can have tragic consequences, has sold more than three million copies since its publication in 2007. The TV adaptation stars Dylan Minette (“Clay”), Katherine Langford (“Hannah”), and Christian Navarro (“Tony”). The adaptation was written by Brian Yorkey, while Tom McCarthy and Selena Gomez (originally announced as the project’s star) are executive producers.
While adapting YA novels for streaming platforms is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s a growing trend. Notably, a series adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Neil Patrick Harris, premiered on Netflix this January and was just renewed this month for a second season. A serial TV adaptation of Rebecca Serle’s Famous in Love (Poppy), starring Bella Thorne, will premiere on Freeform on April 18.
Asher spoke with PW about having the book adapted into a series, rather than as a feature, and how in some ways, the new narrative format broadened the story. “In the novel, I wanted it to be an intimate story between two characters, Hannah and Clay, with Clay listening to all of the tapes in one night. That felt like the most powerful way to tell the story in that medium,” Asher said. “With the TV series, Clay takes several days to work through the tapes, which brings confrontations with other characters, and storylines develop between those characters. I think it’s the most powerful way to tell the story in this medium.” He added, “Had we pushed for a feature film, it would have required us to emotionally condense too many of the stories Hannah tells.”
Asher reflected on the reasons he believes the book resonates with readers, pointing to “its overall emotional honesty. When you let emotions feel as raw and conflicting in a book as they do in life, specific situations and circumstances may be different, but you’ll still connect.”
The author is aware of how fans expect a book’s screen adaptation to remain true to the original story: “For readers of the book,” he said, “along with their excitement, I know there is a lot of nervousness, which I take as a huge compliment.” Asher believes strongly that the book’s qualities have been effectively translated into the series: “With the show, everyone worked from that same storytelling philosophy, and what they achieved is beautiful,” he said.
In an interview Asher conducted with Yorkey—and which appears in the TV tie-in edition—Yorkey describes being approached by a fan of Asher’s novel at a college event once he’d taken on writing and developing the project. She told him: “I heard you’re working on 13 Reasons Why. Please don’t mess it up.”
Asher’s interviews with cast members are also featured in the tie-in edition, which includes a 16-page full color insert containing stills from the series as well as behind-the-scenes photographs from the set. For fans who feel a strong affinity with Asher’s novel, the bingeable Netflix format has another advantage: ever try reading along with a movie in a darkened theater?