I will say that I have read the book twice, & that I recently graduated with my Master's degree in Counseling Psychology. So while I am no expert, I tried to go into the show without unrealistic goals, but I did have some hopes & expectations of what it would be.
However, after those first 11 episodes, I was disappointed. & after finally finishing the last 2 episodes last night, I am even more disappointed. & after reading now that there has been a "copycat" suicide based on the show, I am sick to my stomach. Here is my reasoning (Lots of spoilers ahead):
1. No matter what they all did, none of them killed Hannah.
In one episode, Clay asks if, based on what he had heard, Tony thought that Clay had killed Hannah. Tony tries to shrug it off & say they all could have done more to help, but eventually says, that yes, Clay killed her. This, to me, is not okay. First of all, Clay didn't even do anything to Hannah. But second, no matter what any of those kids did, no matter no horrible, NONE of them killed Hannah. Hannah killed herself. It's the same for any person who commits suicide. It is no one's fault. It is a horrible tragedy & an awful thing, but to blame someone else does not help anyone.
2. They did not need to show her suicide.
They showed her suicide in a somewhat graphic manner. I couldn't even watch. Who does that help, to watch a girl slit her wrists in a bathtub? I highly doubt it helps anyone struggling with self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, or the loss of a friend or family member, to have such a graphic visual.
3. They did not need to show her rape.
Again, I can't imagine a victim of rape or sexual assault, or their family and friends, being thankful to have seen that. I feel like they could have gotten the point across with less being shown.
4. The "added drama" took away from the point.
Speaking of less, in the book, "less" happened. It was not rape, but another form of sexual assault. That is not to say it is any less emotionally damaging or physically violating, & I feel that in the book, that was made very clear - Sexual assault of any kind is a major violation. But this is just one of many examples where the show seemed to feel the need to add more "drama" to things. They added the story line of the trial & all the kids getting subpoenaed to testify, which didn't really have anything to do with... anything, really, in the end. Tony was gay (Tony was hardly discussed in the book), which is irrelevant to anything, so why did his boyfriend need to exist/follow him everywhere? Also, why did we need to see Justin & Tyler getting guns? To keep us curious about who got shot for an episode? Or to leave it open for a sequel (please no)? It was unnecessary & just added pointless dramatic suspense that led nowhere. More examples of this are below.
5. The focus was too much on revenge & hiding what they did.
The point of the book was to learn from mistakes & move past it. Maybe I'm remembering wrong, but I got the sense that in the book, everyone was ashamed of what they had done to hurt Hannah, & that was the main reason they didn't want to talk about the tapes. But the whole point of the show, for at least the first half, was all these kids trying to hide what they did to keep their popularity, denying they ever knew Hannah, & even threatening to kill Clay if they exposed him. The whole "let's kill him!" attitude honestly seemed like a bad movie about a bunch of thugs. I can't imagine high schoolers saying that kind of stuff in real life.
6. The counselor could not guarantee that Hannah's rapist would go to jail.
This is a 100% accurate scenario. Even if a girl gave every detail of the crime, our justice system is so messed up these days, there's still no way to guarantee the rapist would go to jail. With Hannah being unwilling to give a name or details, that's not a lot to try him with. I will say that the counselor could have phrased some questions better, he could have turned his phone off, he could have chased after her, etc. But there are ways she could have improved the situation too, & placing blame on either side won't help. The thing I can say he definitely should have done differently is that if she had even hinted at having suicidal thoughts, he should have questioned that further, without a doubt.
7. People cannot read minds.
Throughout the episodes, there are so many times when Hannah gets upset with people for not knowing something is wrong. But when people ask what's going on, she says everything is fine. Then her little off-screen dialogues say they should have known to ask more, or follow her, or whatever else it may be. That's not really fair to blame people for not knowing what's going on if she won't tell them when they ask. She denies every attempt Clay makes to get close to her. She doesn't talk to her parents. She tried to make the counselor guess what her situation was, & got mad when he was wrong. She expects everyone to come to her in most situations, but doesn't seem to reciprocate when they try.
8. The show does not mention mental illness.
Suicide is highly linked with depression, among other mental illnesses. There are so many other kids in this show who are going through horrible things, & some of them are coping, while others are not. Hannah could not cope, possibly because of depression. This show could have explored how depression can damage coping skills, & discuss how depression is a mental illness, not a feeling - something that causes people with this illness to see things and manage things differently, & possibly why she pushed so many people away.
9. It doesn't address dangers of the "ripple effect."
Often, when there is one suicide, there will be a "ripple effect," & other students will begin to report suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. I believe the show mentions it once, but doesn't really address the issue. Later, Alex attempts suicide, & two other characters mention contemplating suicide, but it is never mentioned that this could be part of the ripple effect. This seems like a missed opportunity to discuss the dangers of this situation - how one person's death can impact the lives of so many others, to reflect on the pain that Hannah's death brought, to think about what their lives mean, to discuss what their deaths would mean, to discuss how suicide is not a solution to problems, etc...
10. They also focused too much on hatred for Hannah.
No one seemed to care that Hannah was dead, other than her parents, Tony, & Clay. Everyone just brushed it off as "Well, she's dead now, so why does it matter?" or "We have to hide what we did. No one will believe a dead girl." To me, this is problematic for two reasons. First, it distracts from the point that Hannah is gone & that should change things. Second, it isn't realistic. As someone who has experienced the death of several classmates, I have seen acquaintances come out of the wood works to mourn the loss of classmates they barely knew, cherishing even the smallest memories, simply because the loss of someone so young is such a tragic thing. If Hannah hung out with the popular crowd at a small school, 1) everyone would know who knew her & how, & 2) everyone would be discussing all of those details.
11. The point of the book seemed to be learning a lesson, but the show brought about the opposite.
The book makes me think of learning lessons - seeking forgiveness, changing your ways, etc. But in the show, everyone kept bullying each other, fighting constantly, lying about Hannah & everything else... Even Clay got brought into it BECAUSE of Hannah. No one seemed to learn anything from the tapes except how to be more manipulative, until the very end, & even then, a lot of it almost seemed forced - a couple of people confessed to their parts, a couple confessed because others did & they knew the truth would come out eventually, & most still lied.
12. It didn't really teach anything to look out for/do to help.
The last episode did have Clay's speech to the Counselor (of all people), saying we need to change how we treat people. But at that point, still, no one really had changed much. Clay talked to Skye in the hall, but honestly, she wasn't very nice, either. There was a tiny blip in one episode where the teacher discussed signs to look out for if someone was suicidal, but that was short & got cut off.
13. Overall... It could have been an incredible platform, but instead it's basically a trigger warning.
Because of the success of the book, this was bound to be a big success too, & it has been. But instead of using that platform to make a difference - to show people how to speak out against sexual or domestic violence, to show how to look for warning signs in a person contemplating suicide, to tell who to contact if you know someone who is self-harming, or suicidal, or experiencing violence, or if YOU are going through any of these things... They used that platform to show off some really great music & production, & some far-too-graphic examples of harm.
So I will try to right a bit of that wrong by providing links to some places you can contact for info or help below.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline or call 800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233
http://www.crisistextline.org/ has a big list of resources for different crises, & you can also text 741741 (just remember it's straight down the number key pad twice) if you are in an immediate crisis to text with a real person.