Jay Asher's wildly popular YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why is getting its own 13-episode Netflix adaptation executive produced by Selena Gomez. It's the story of Clay Jensen (played in the miniseries by Scandal alum Dylan Minnette), a high school student whose crush, Hannah Baker, sends him a mysterious message following her tragic and unexpected suicide. The series deals with issues of teen bullying, sexual coercion, and depression, which may prompt some viewers to wonder: is 13 Reasons Why's Hannah Baker based on a real person? Despite the very relevant subject matter, this character and the story are a work of fiction.
According to a 2009 New York Times story of the novel's quiet climb up the bestseller list over a period of two years, the character of Hannah Baker is inspired by a relative of Asher's who also attempted suicide. But the idea for formatting the novel as transcripts of audiotapes left behind by Hannah came from a trip to Las Vegas during which Asher was listening to an audio-guided tour of of an exhibition on King Tut. "This would be a really cool format for a book that I had never seen," said Asher of his thought process. As for Clay, his character is fleshed out from Asher's own memories of high school.
13 Reasons Why also covers Clay and Hannah's budding flirtation and their few, fleeting moments of connection prior to her suicide. Then Clay receives a shoebox full of numbered cassette tapes on his doorstep, all recorded by Hannah before her death. In them, she outlines the various people who she says are responsible for her decision to commit suicide, and uses the tapes as a way to show them how, thereby ensuring that her story can finally be heard..
As the tapes are played, more and more of Hannah's history falls into place. She says there are thirteen reasons why she committed suicide, which becomes evident as the tapes play and viewers hear her whole story unfold. Although Hannah is a fictional character, the novel's popularity among YA readers obviously implies that a lot people identify with her or her loved ones' struggles. Selena Gomez, a longtime anti-bullying and mental health advocate, loved the book so much, she took up its on-screen adaptation as her own personal passion project. So this series may not be based on a true story, but it does seem like many folks will be able to relate.