Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): 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.
And here's what I thought:  This was one of those books that I started reading, expecting a good story, and wound up by the end feeling like I got way, way more from it.   I really loved the way that the story alternated between Clay and Hannah.  Basically, he's listening to her on the tapes, so we get Clay's thoughts and reactions, and his present-time story, and we get Hannah's story, told directly in her voice.   
So, let's focus on Clay first, since he's the first character we encounter.  It's hard to know much about who he is, but it's obvious that he cared a lot about Hannah.  As the story continues, his reactions to what he's hearing tell us more about him and he seems like a pretty good guy.   He's obviously bothered by some of what Hannah's revealing as he listens to her tapes, and it seems like while he's learning more about Hannah, he's also learning more about himself.  Definitely an interesting way to develop a character.  I liked how he seemed like a nice, normal guy (not perfect), the kind of quiet guy people might not notice, but who's got a great personality, and a good heart.    But here's the thing you find yourself wondering as you're reading: if these tapes are being passed to certain people, and each one of them is mentioned on a tape (individually), then how is Clay involved?  Is he not as nice as he seems?  He's not sure, himself, if he did something to Hannah to wind up on a tape.

And here's one of the things that made the book so interesting to me.  The way that Hannah reveals her reasons, from one person to the next, leaves you wondering how they're all related.  It's a slow reveal, and I just couldn't stop reading -- I needed to know who was next, and why.  I also really liked the idea of having Hannah make these tapes, to let us know just how she was affected by what certain people did.   For any of us who have known someone who has committed suicide, we're left wondering: why?   In this story, we're told why.   I know that in these tapes, Hannah's telling us how she was feeling, and what led her to consider taking her own life.  And, we're getting it in her voice (literally), not in someone else's interpretation of clues she may have left behind.

I have to admit, I like that Hannah made these tapes.  The idea of just putting it out there, and saying these things to someone who has hurt you, is something I think a lot of us dream about doing.   Not committing suicide.  But, the idea of somehow telling someone: You did this, and it hurt me.  When I was growing up, I wasn't popular, and a lot of kids were pretty mean.  While I have worked hard over the years to not hold grudges (and believe me, it was work), and I don't think I really do, I do still remember some of those kids.  I think about how it would be to write someone a letter and say, "You know that time you said ____________?  It really hurt my feelings and it made me hate who I was.  And I really hated you for saying it, too."   Not that it would accomplish anything.  But, it might be interesting to just put it out there (and let go of it).   Hannah makes some pretty good points in her tapes, especially about how rumors can really be hurtful.   Right in the beginning, we learn about a rumor that started just because she had a first kiss.   What then happens is a nasty, viral rumor that makes it seem like Hannah's a slut.  And then, more little rumors get tacked on to that.   My first reaction to reading this was to hope that in these tapes, that Hannah was going to exact a little revenge, and make people think twice about not believing everything they hear.

I suppose I loved this book because I identified with Hannah.   I think there are a lot of us who have experienced mean, thoughtless people, and there are some of us who have experienced how hurtful it can be to be the subject of a rumor.  I know I definitely understand how that feels.  When I was in my first year of college (at a small-ish school), my own RA (resident advisor) spread rumors about me to the point where, when I walked in the dining hall, conversations would stop, and people would turn and stare at me.  Not nice.  I wound up transferring to another school after that year, to a place where some of my classes were 200+ people, and no one would notice me.  It was heaven.   But I know that some people never have that option.  And so, I was angry on Hannah's behalf.  Each time she felt like she made progress, or found something safe, that would get taken away from her, leaving her without a lot of options.   There was one statement that really struck me: "If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don't want to cry anymore, you don't listen to that song anymore.  But you can't get away from yourself.  You can't decide not to see yourself anymore.  You can't decide to turn off the noise in your head."  (p. 178).   

This was a powerful book, and one I think is important for people to read.  It's not only a good story if you can identify with Hannah, but it's also an important story to read if you can't identify with her (because it really can make you think about how your words and actions can really affect someone else). 

Where I got this book:  Library (although I'm adding it to my "want" list for my own library at home).    


BookQuoter said...

This is on my list. Thanks.


I've never heard of this book but it will definitely be on my to read book. You think it's good enough to buy, I'll trust your judgement. It sounds terrific though the suicide thing hits close to home for me. The header of your site looks like New England. I'm in Cape Cod. I love old cemeteries. Just the history there. I love your look and your review.


Kristen said...

I definitely agree that I loved the idea of the tapes, but the suicide part really killed me. This was one of the books that I liked but really made me angry at the end as well. You want a happy ending and even though you know that there is no happy ending right off the bat.. you still want it. Or at least I did. I really also liked the audio version of this which really put it into perspective and it was like I was listening to the tapes with Clay.

Jen at Introverted Reader said...

This book sounds so important but so difficult to read! I've honestly been avoiding it. Like you, I was never the popular kid in class, so I would probably relate to Hannah. Now that I'm past all that school stuff, it's not something I want to revisit. Your review is great though, and I hope the book does make people stop and think about how their actions hurt others.

Nikki in Niagara said...

This is a book I want to read and your review makes me want to read it even more but I'm not quite sure I can handle it. It sounds awfully powerful and I don't usually read such emotional books. We'll see....

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

My gosh I read this book a while back and RAVED about it. I thought it was so good and love it whenever I see someone else has read it too. :D

Jenn said...

Funny you mentioned this book. A friend of mine just told me I absolute must get the audio version of this book. Your review really makes me want to read it even more!


Pixie said...

Great review, 13 Reasons Why, is a fantastic book.

Najela said...

I loved this book so much. It's one of my favorites. I loved your review of it. I too identified with Hannah at some points. Not that I would commit suicide, but just feeling kind of lost and betrayed at some points in high school.

Great review.

Anonymous said...

This book really did change my perspective on life.. I love it!

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