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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review - Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Goodreads review: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 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. 

First, the characters: 

Hannah. Oh my. If there were ever a dislikeable character it's Hannah. I mean she's already dead, her classmates are probably reeling from her suicide, and then she goes and lays the blame on others, thirteen others to be exact. How would you feel if you were one of the "lucky" thirteen? Me? I would have retreated to my bedroom for weeks. And then I would have gotten mad. Who the hell does Hannah think she is to blame other people for her personal problems? I tell you guys, I had a huge knot in my stomach the whole time I was reading Thirteen Reasons Why because in some sense you do get to feel what it's like to be that person. Hannah is not a strong character, folks. She makes us hate her. First for dishing on my man, Clay, but more importantly because she's a quitter. Everyone loves a hero. No one likes a quitter.  Especially not a quitter who blames others for their quitting. Now, if you're a person who has to like your characters in order to like the story itself, this book may not be for you. No, wait, did I say that? My bad. What I meant to say is that this book IS for you. The unlikeable character has popped up in some of the best books I've read - Speak from Laurie Halse Anderson and Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers to name a few. If you're avoiding books like these because of the unlikeable character, then you're missing out. Let's face it, no one is 100% likeable, but everyone has a story to tell (or at least characters in stories do). When we read stories like these we start to think that we can understand people, even those people we don't like, and that is so, so important.  So don't turn your head from this book because of Hannah's character. Read it anyway and see if you don't come to the same conclusion that I did, that this story is amazing

Clay - Clay's character was essential to this book. Because Hannah is so unlikeable and because the subject matter of teen suicide is so depressing, readers will tend to shy away from this story. But the addition of Clay as one of the thirteen was pure brilliance on writer, Jay Asher's, part. There's an immediate set up here where we see a normal guy who thinks he's got no reason to be on that list, and the reader becomes immediately curious, wondering what the heck he did. I kept thinking to myself, no way is anyone that nice. Clay must have done something really bad and he just doesn't want to admit it. And then I'd think, no it was just a mistake. He doesn't really belong on the list. As the misdeeds of the thirteen become more and more deviant, (not sure if that's the right word here) I became more anxious to see where Clay fit in. I won't tell you what he actually did, but take note my fellow writers - this is a brilliant way to hook the reader.

The other twelve - they're sitting around you, gossiping in the lunchroom, bragging at their lockers. Or if you're past that stage, maybe they're the ones sucking up to the boss, making a fuss over a wrong order at Starbucks or just generally reminding you that sometimes people really suck. Think I'm being snarky? Well, I'm not. These characters could be the person sitting next to you, they could be you. Okay, maybe not you, you. All of my readers are very sweet, generous people. :) I'm sure none of you are as bad as #11 or #4 on Hannah's list, but the idea is that even the little things people do can have a huge impact on someone else's life. You never know how something you say or do might affect someone else. It's a little telling that I've forgotten the names of the other twelve accusees because ultimately who they were wasn't all that important. It was who they represented - everyone.

Some may say that Thirteen Reasons Why is kind of preachy, and yes, there is definitely a message there, but it's delivered in an engaging manner. It's also a very important message. I was speaking to a neighbor just the other day and learned that a young girl, just 14 years old, committed suicide in our neighborhood. I didn't know the family, but it made me so sad that someone could be so depressed at that age. My neighbor has daughters of her own and so I recommended this book for her girls. I don't think that it will help them to recognize the signs of severe depression. This isn't exactly that type of book, and there are websites for that (see below). But I think it will help them, and hopefully other readers, to see that just being nice to people can have a huge impact. I think every young adult can handle that reminder. Heck, I think every adult can handle that reminder, and that's why I'm giving Thirteen Reasons Why 5 stars.

Other things to love/hate about the book:

1. The writing is very dry, cut-to-the-chase style writing. There were no real moments where I paused to reflect on the beauty of the prose. Which is fine because it's the story and the message that really carries the book.

2. Along with not liking Hannah's character, there was one part of the book that I felt went a little over the top, as if Asher felt he had to add just one more reason why Hannah would do what she did. I thought it was unnecessary for two reasons: 1. the delivery just wasn't there. It didn't make me understand Hannah better and the way the scene was done didn't invoke the right feeling that it should have. 2. Sometimes it's not these big things that lead one down that road. Teens and adults can commit suicide for reasons that appear very minor to the rest of us. Part of the story as a whole was how things built up and up in Hannah's head/world. Losing that final thing wouldn't have made Hannah's ordeal any less significant, at least in my opinion. Sorry if I'm going off on a tangent here, but once you read it I think you'll know what I'm talking about.

3. My edition has an interview with Asher in the back where he talks about how he got the idea for Thirteen Reasons and why he added certain things, like using old-fashioned audio tapes instead of CDs for the actual recording of Hannah's voice. He talks about how when you use outdated objects in a contemporary novel how that negates the concept of "dating". I really liked this idea - although I probably won't turn Sam's Aston Martin into a '69 Cadillac. Just so you know. :)

Jay Asher's website:
National Suicide Hotline 1-800- SUICIDE
Signs of severe depression in teens
Facts about teen suicide and prevention

I haven't read any other books on teen suicide since I've began my foray into YA, but if you have any recommendations, let me know and I'll add a link!!


Melanie said...

This book has bee on my list of TBR for a looooong time. Your review has gotten pretty psyched up for it and I think it will be moving much higher to the top of my list. Thanks Angie, fantastic review as always!

Bee said...

I really like the way you worked out the review. Pretty cool.

I read Thirteen Reasons Why a long time back. I thought the premise was extremely clever. For the first part of the book, though, I felt like a detached observer, not connecting with anyone, not empathising either. I just felt sad for what was happening. But about halfway, something happened and that book killed me. It hit home, cos a girl I knew had committed suicide a while back and she was only 17.
I thought the ending was perfect. It couldn't have been any other way.

Also, I have the same edition, so I have his interview too :)

Karla Nellenbach said...

This is actually one of my favorite YA books. I read it about a month after I wrote my own teen suicide MS and this just hit on everything i'd wanted to say and did so much better. Great book and a must read for anyone who hasn't yet :)

Melanie said...

Okay, you totally screwed me up with this right to left switch. aaacckkk.


Angie said...

Bee - so sorry to hear about your friend/classmate. And yes, you're right the ending was perfect.

Karla - hope you still pursued your MS.

Mel - you know I did that just to disorient you. :=)

Joann Swanson said...

Liking the new blog look! I read this one awhile back and you hit on each of the issues I came away with. Clay, for me, saved the book. That and an incredibly clever premise. Looking forward to seeing what Asher does in the future.

Nomes said...

i love this review - you speak about the book so well, dissecting it all.

i've read a few books with a suicidal occurring in it. most recently, Hold Still by Nina LaCour. It was brilliantly done. I so love that book.

also, melina marhcetta's Looking for Alibrandi has a suicide in it - also really well done, but not at all the focus of the main narrative.



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