Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Release Date: October 18, 2007
Softcover Edition; 304 Pages
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Clay Jensen returns home
from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his
porch. Inside he discovers thirteen 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.
First of all, before I get into the nitty gritty of my review, I do have to mention that I did really like Thirteen Reasons Why, and that it did make an impression on me, and that I did think about it for quite a while after I finished reading it. I work with teenagers on a daily basis, and mental health, suicide, and depression are huge issues that adolescents face today and as professionals, we are constantly dealing with them on a regular basis and incorporating them into our regular plans as much as possible in order to open up communication with regards to these issues. And they are HUGE!!! One of the big criticisms I read over this book was how did everyone around Hannah miss the warning signs about her impending suicide, but sometimes the clues are so small and so well-hidden that even trained professionals can miss them. And I may get flack over this comment, but unless you work on a regular basis with this age group, for hours on end, then you may not understand what it is really like.
Personally, I liked to duality of the storytelling, first hearing Hannah's point of view, then hearing Clay's comments from a different perspective. It was interesting hearing the two sides of the story and somewhat sad as well, knowing what the final outcome was. I tended to be far more empathetic towards Clay's pain than I was towards Hannah's pain, but I wonder, looking back, if that was actually intentional on the author's part. I never felt that the author was setting out to make Hannah the victim, but was just telling her story and sharing with the readers the pain from someone who was left behind. Often with suicide, we don't know why the person chose to kill himself/herself and friends and family are often left wondering why, but here Hannah left her reasons for why she did it and sent the tapes to everyone involved. This is where I get to some of the issues in this novel however, as Hannah had to deal with rumours about her, people touching her without her permission due to the rumours, rape issues, and people not really willing to get to know the real her or using her for her reputation.
I am wondering why she would have sent them to Clay, why she would have been him through an agony like this, when he did nothing wrong, And poor Tony, to put that kind of pressure on him, and to make him a kind of watch-person for the others who had to listen to the tapes. And why make the tapes in the first place? What was her intention with that as it never really said? Was it make the other people's lives miserable and to ruin their lives like she thought hers was ruined? Personally, as a professional, I think it sets a bad precedent and I hope that others don't read too much into this and try to copy this method of "tying up loose ends", so to speak. I realize this is not what the author intended, but it sort of left a bad taste in my mouth, even if I liked the way the novel was set up. Does any of this make any sense? My other concern was Hannah's interaction with her parents was very limited and we know absolutely nothing about her relationship with them. Did they receive the tapes too? How much did they contribute to Hannah's sense of isolation and desolation? This is an area that I thought was extremely lacking in this novel as parents play such a huge in this stage of development and there was barely any mention of them.
As for the suicide itself, even I found myself waiting for the "big" moment when something really bad must have happened for Hannah to want to take her life, but when that didn't happen I thought about the effect of all of these things on a personality and realized how it could affect people differently. One of the things we have to keep in mind is that everyone is different and what would slide of my shoulders, could affect someone else far differently. It's not always the big things that cause people to commit suicide, but sometimes the piling on of everything that people just can't shrug off anymore and if that person suffers from depression on top of it, it sets up a situation of despair and desolation. I was somewhat critical of the hair comment in the novel, as students constantly change their look and while it would be noticed, it happens so often that I would not necessarily note it as a suicide watch-for. Perhaps the author was trying to point out that it's not always the big things but the small constant things and we should look out for each other. What bothered me the most is the fact that nobody seemed to be talking about it afterwards. And this is often the case now, isn't it? Let's sweep it under the rug, until the next time, and perhaps this is what Hannah was trying to avoid with her tapes.
Thirteen Reasons Why is one of those novels that many people should read even if all it does is being up discussion points about a really serious issue. Even if it doesn't affect you personally, but it does help one person who sees himself/herself in these pages and that person can reach out to somebody for help, then it has done its job. I really feel that the author has made a point that it's not for us to judge what makes a person suicidal but to reach out to those who might be in trouble, to sympathize, to empathize, and to help.