"13 Reasons Why" is a teen drama with a difference, and early reviews are giving the Netflix series that tackles bullying and suicide the thumbs up. It can be difficult to talk about a serious issue in a way that's still entertaining, but Brian Yorkey's adaptation of the 2007 book by Jay Asher largely succeeds at both.

'13 Reasons Why' -- the series

The premise for "13 Reasons Why" is a series of 13 cassette tapes -- she deliberately rejects digital technology in favor of old-school devices -- that Hannah Baker, (played by Aussie actor Katherine Langford,) records and leaves on the eve of committing suicide.

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The tapes detail the 13 reasons for her suicide, each involving a different person who has to listen to the tapes, then pass them along to the next one on the list. We follow as Clay Jensen, (played by Dylan Minnette,) number 11, works his way through the cassettes, listening in horror as the whole truth of the puzzle begins to come together.

It's a story that unfolds in bits and pieces between flashbacks and the present, as Hannah's grieving parents sue the school for failing to protect their daughter. There are a lot of twists and turns in how "13 Reasons Why" fits together that keeps "13 Reasons Why" interesting, like a whodunit murder mystery.

Teen suicide

The series is being praised for its unflinching look at a difficult topic. The situations and motivations depicted in "13 Reasons Why" are realistic, including bullying in a high school social scene that favors the jocks, the role the internet plays in turning isolated incidents into social nightmares, sexual harassment and assault. It isn't any one single incident or reason that tips Hannah over the edge, but a collection of things that leaves one person feeling completely isolated and beyond help.

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Tragically, it is a realistic portrayal of teen suicide.

Selena Gomez, who acts as executive producer for "13 Reasons Why" was originally intended to star in the show. But, as the series development dragged on, it became clear that she would no longer be able to play the high school sophomore. Selena's had some hard times herself, and she opens up about what motivated her to stay with the project even after casting wasn't in the picture in a post-show episode that's included with the release of Season 1.

As in the book, no one really emerges as the good guy in "13 Reasons Why," although there are a lot of surprises along the way. Whether it was through a failure of courage or completely callous brutality, everyone on the list has made a contribution to the dark conclusion of Hannah's story. Not even Hannah is portrayed as an angel. She makes bad decisions, is silly, thoughtless, and sometimes doesn't stick up for her own friends when she should. In short, she emerges as a real teenager.

Be forewarned: the portrayal of Hannahs' suicide in the Netflix production isn't for the squeamish.

Solid performances

Katharine Langford and Dylan Minnette hold down the center of "13 Reasons Why" with solid performances. Langford nails the increasingly saddened and bewildered Hannah as she watches her life spin out of control, ultimately becoming numb to her own fate. Kate Walsh is also strong in the role of Hannah's mother. Of the adult roles, Derek Luke isn't entirely convincing as the school counselor -- we're never quite sure why he is first seemingly unconcerned, then suddenly concerned, by what ends up as his role in Hannah's suicide.

A bit of a spoiler: The ending of "13 Reasons Why" may seem a little unsatisfying to those who have already read the book. The Netflix version, after all, is only the end of Season 1. Unlike the book, which simply ends with Clay passing along the tapes to the next person, the TV series finishes on a dramatic note, one that potentially sends various characters in different directions -- directions that could obviously be explored in Season 2.

"13 Reasons Why" is streaming now on Netflix.