Is 13 Reasons Why a True Story?

‘13 Reasons Why’ is a teen drama that follows the story of a boy, named Clay, who receives a bunch of tapes from a girl, named Hannah, two weeks after she commits suicide. The series focuses on the issues of bullying, mental illness, and sexual abuse in teenagers, and the portrayal of these sensitive subject matters has turned it into one of the most popular teen dramas on Netflix. The story hits close to home on a number of levels, which makes us wonder if it is based on a true story? Are Clay and Hannah based on real people? Is ‘13 Reasons Why’ based on true events? Here’s the answer.

Is 13 Reasons Why Based on a true story?

No, ‘13 Reasons Why’ is not based on a true story. It is based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher. The series uses the novel for the arc of its first season. The rest of the seasons, however, take off on their own, as there is no sequel to the book. As a whole, the story comes from Asher’s imagination. However, there are some parts which drew inspiration from real-life situations. For the character of Clay, he didn’t have to look very far. He based a lot of his characteristics on himself. Hannah Baker, however, was a different story.

To write about a girl who is pushed to commit suicide, he had to understand the psychology of the person. A relative of his had tried to kill herself when she was Hannah’s age. As Asher started talking to her about what she felt, what she thinks went wrong, and the possibilities of the things that could have gone better, he started forming the image of a teenager who is bullied and misunderstood, but also lacks the ability to see things from the perspective of others, which leads her to not ask for help when she so desperately needs it. “It was very eye-opening, that even people that we assume somewhat have it together at least can be in a very dark place. Which was definitely the inspiration of making Hannah somebody who, unless you really knew her, you would probably think, ‘I think things are OK’,” said Asher.

The idea to tell her story through the tapes came from the experience of an audio guide that he’d had many years ago. He found something eerie and distant, yet so close in this manner of communication. It clicked with Hannah’s story, and he decided to stick to this format.

One of the things that make ‘13 Reasons Why’ such a heart-breaking experience is that as we get to know Hannah’s story, we realise that she could have been helped. But it is too late for that now, as the tapes come out after her death. In the show, she slits her wrists. In the book, she swallows pills, which left room for saving her. She could have been taken to the hospital, where she could be saved by getting her stomach pumped. Initially, Asher thought about this.

Because his relative had survived, he wanted the same thing to happen for Hannah. He wanted her to have a second chance at life, but that would dilute the message of the story. He wanted it to be a cautionary tale about the finality of taking your own life. “When you actually go through with it, there are no second chances. The idea that for everybody, no matter how isolated they feel, there are always people they can go to – but if they don’t, they don’t get that chance. We [he and the publisher] felt it very important to show that finality,” said the author.

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