Beth Dubber/Netflix

The Premise Of '13 Reasons Why' Feels All Too Real

From executive producer Selena Gomez comes Netflix's latest 13-episode miniseries, based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The Netflix adaptation stars Scandal alum Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen, a high school student who mysteriously receives a box of audiotapes from his classmate and crush Hannah Baker. The mystery? Hannah had committed suicide two weeks earlier. The tapes contain anecdotes outlining the thirteen reasons why Hannah decided to end her life, including incidents with bullies, sexual coercion, and family conflict. So is 13 Reasons Why based on a true story?

The young adult novel by Asher is a work fiction, but its themes of bullying, sexual assault, teen suicide, and grief are pretty relevant. And given its heavy overlap with her anti-bullying advocacy platform, it's no surprise Selena Gomez felt so drawn to the project. Although she opted to remain behind the scenes this time instead of in front of the camera, in an effort not to steal focus from the project with her star power.

Asher did draw inspiration for the story of Hannah's suicide from a relative who had attempted to end their own life. And the character of Clay is rooted in Asher's own high school memories. But the events of the dark story are entirely fictionalized.

The tapes Clay receives after Hannah's death come with instructions to pass them out to the other twelve people Hannah identifies as being partly responsible for her desire to end her life. Because she names names, and because Clay had feelings for her, he is naturally left feeling like he has to avenge her in some way. You can catch glimpses of his emotional outbursts toward Hannah's bullies in the trailer.

The Netflix series boasts an impressive cast, including Private Practice star Kate Walsh and Broadway veteran Brian d'Arcy James as Hannah's bereaved parents. Like the book, the miniseries unfolds in thriller style, with the pieces of Hannah's life — and the circumstances of her death — slowly falling into place as the tapes are played. It's a compelling allegory for the importance of listening to the victims of harm when they speak out about their experiences, and the consequences of not hearing them when they do. The novel has a massive fan following among teens, so the Netflix series is also likely to be a success. While it may not be based on a true story, 13 Reasons Why's popularity proves that its themes are painfully familiar to many.