Friday, December 9, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Publisher: Razorbill

Pages: 304

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Summary: Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.
Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

This is one of those young adult books that everyone but me was reading for awhile. I figured I should give it a try in order to not exist outside of the Jay Asher loop. I knew that back when this one came out there was a lot of buzz about it, so I wanted to see what the deal was.
After reading Thirteen Reasons Why, I can see why there was so much buzz about it when it first came out and why it continues to be such a big book in the young adult community. There have been books about bullying and teen suicide before, but the way Jay Asher chose to reveal Hannah's tale was incredibly unique. Rather than just tell the story of Hannah Baker's depression and suicide, Asher has Hannah explain it in a series of cassette tapes that are to be passed around to a list of certain people one by one. Once each person listens to the tapes, they are supposed to pass them on to the next person or "reason" Hannah committed suicide. Readers hear Hannah's story when Clay Jenkins, one of Hannah's coworkers, listens to the tapes. Clay was never mean to Hannah and actually liked her as more than a friend, so he is understandably confused when he hears why the tapes are being passed around.
I have mixed feelings about Thirteen Reasons Why. On the one hand, the way Asher chose to reveal Hannah's story--through her own voice on tape, rather than from beyond the grave--was unique. The idea behind this book was very good, and I read it in a couple of hours. Asher's writing was good and easy to get through, considering the subject matter in the book is rather difficult. I liked that the story was told by both Clay and Hannah, though I wished different fonts had been used instead of italics to differentiate between the two. I also liked that Clay did not end up being a negative person in Hannah's life, rather he received the tapes because she cared about him and probably knew that he would wonder as to why she would do such a thing. I feel like the story would have been very predictable if Clay had been one of the people that was a jerk to Hannah; it was much better that they were good acquaintances that did not have bad blood between them.
I liked that Hannah was a normal girl. It wasn't like she was overly geeky or weird, she was as normal as can be. I think that was important in order to show that absolutely anyone can be the subject of bullying. Hannah was a normal new kid in town. She made a few friends and didn't really offend anyone. The lies of one boy created a reputation for her that kind of snowballed. It is important to see that everyone could be affected by bullying, not simply those who are "different" or "weird." Also, it was good to demonstrate that it is not only big events that can harm a person, but a buildup of tiny instances can hurt someone as well. Asher demonstrated this idea well, considering many of the thirteen reasons were smaller occurrences that fed into the larger picture of Hannah's misery.
I did not really care for the fact that Hannah blamed so many people for her suicide, or that she chose to explain that fact to so many people through cassette tapes. Suicide is a decision made by a single person. I did not feel that the book properly addressed the idea that ultimately, Hannah is the one Hannah punished with her death. The people the tapes are addressed to will never be the same, but they are still alive. Hannah is not. My question was, if Hannah had all this time to plan out and create seven cassette tapes with thirteen reasons why she should kill herself, why didn't she have the time to get some real help? She says that the guidance counselor was her last chance, but she knew that Clay cared for her. She also could have talked to her parents. I'm a little concerned that this book creates an image of Hannah that should not be given to a character that commits suicide--a martyr for her cause. She teaches people lessons in this book. These people wouldn't think twice about their actions (ranging from selfish to horrifying) if Hannah didn't kill herself and bitch them out after her death. I felt like this put her suicide in too much of a positive perspective--meaning if it weren't for her death, these people would never change rather than their finally thinking about their actions being a side effect of her death.
Also, something smaller than, oh, the entire point of the story: Skye's role in the novel. Some people would probably be all, "Who's Skye? I don't really remember that name." Skye only has two scenes: one where Clay sees her and explains that she's kind of stepped back from life at their high school, and another at the very end where Clay doesn't say anything to her, then runs after her to speak to her. I get what Asher was trying to do there, I really do. I just think it would have made slightly more of an impact if Skye had been a more developed character. For all I know, Skye just doesn't want to speak to people at the high school because she's got these amazing friends outside of school. We have no idea whether or not she's happy. It was a nice thing that Clay went out of his way to speak to her after what happened to Hannah, but it would have been more poignant if we knew more about Skye.
Overall, I still have no idea what to think about Thirteen Reasons Why, but here's a long post about it. I'd advise reading it for yourself and finding your own conclusions, because clearly I'm not much help when it comes to this one. However, I do like Jay Asher's writing style and plan on reading his next book, The Future of Us (written with Carolyn Mackler), very soon.

Rating: Uh, I'm at a this one is going to go without a rating.

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