Review : Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Pages : 288
Genre : YA, Fiction
My Rating :

What it’s about :

When Hannah took her own life, no one understood why she did – certainly not Clay, who used to work with her and kissed her once at a party.

Two weeks later, Clay comes back from school to a strange box filled with tapes waiting for him. 7 tapes, 13 stories, 1 map explaining why Hannah decided to commit suicide.  Clay is in for the most intense night of his life, following Hannah’s story though the city, with her voice in his ears as company…

Thirteen Reasons Why is a complex novel on a complex subject. It is intense and  a page-turner, with an intriguing idea that, I’m sure, would work perfectly as an audio book. Suicide is a subject that is really close to my heart, and I couldn’t write my review just after reading it. I am still struggling to put my conflicted thoughts in words – and this will be a review as much as a personal statement. So let’s go with it.

First, I loved Asher’s writing. The narration was paced by Hannah and Clay’s voices alternating, and Clay’s interruptions were welcomed. He paused the story just enough to let the reader breathe, but not too much that it would make it difficult to keep up with the story. His reactions also offer a second perception on events that both he and Hannah were part of. We can see how things that affected her really looked trivial to those around her – and, sometimes, to the reader.

Don’t get me wrong – I do not take the subject lightly, nor would I dare judging someone’s motivation to commit suicide. In this case, I wouldn’t want to diminish what Hannah went through, but I did expect some more dramatic or violent event. So that should be something to know if that’s something you expect too. However, because of that, I thought the author wrote a very realistic portrait of the events and their consequences, without adding drama only for effect. It was gripping and I had a hard time putting the book down.

It’s also the kind of book where the author’s intentions aren’t clear. Are we supposed to feel bad for Hannah? Or for Clay? Are the people who Hannah “blames” really guilty? Are their acts enough to justify Hannah taking her own life, or can we suppose there was something more that pushed her over the edge? There is no clear answer to those questions – not in the book, at least, and it’s completely up to the reader to make his/her own opinion. I spent a lot of time weighting all sides of the situation; a part of me felt like Hannah’s tapes were less of an explanation than a vengeance, putting the guilt on other people’s shoulders. And I’m not saying they weren’t bad to her, but many of the things that she denounces were simple acts of high school life. For this reason, I can see why some people found it difficult to sympathize for her. Honestly.

And that’s where I’m having a more difficult time with things, because I also think that despite Hannah’s tapes, there are a lot more things we don’t know than things we do know. I have read a few reviews saying “I know people who went through worst and got over it without killing themselves” and that she was “selfish”. People, I agree : I personally think I went through worst, and I’m still here.

BUT (and that’s a major but, as you can see), not everyone is the same : while I respect these other opinions immensely, I cannot pass this under silence. There’s a reason those we commit suicide are often those we did not suspect, and that’s because they don’t carry their pain on their skin. Small things can play a very big part. Also considering some disorders like depression are caused by biochemical imbalances (which means that someone could be depressed without any huge traumatic event in their life), how can we judge what is “enough” for someone to take their own life? Again, I am not trying to point the finger at other people’s opinion, but I had to get this off my chest. In a way, we could say that there is nothing to understand about someone who commits suicide : there is no reason, small or big, that would make enough sense to the outside world.

So I guess what I’m saying is: that’s fine if you didn’t enjoy the book, and that’s also obviously fine to say so! Just because a book touched a difficult theme doesn’t mean it should be spared by critiques. But just be careful on how you express your thoughts on Hannah’s motivations, because you could be at the same time judging someone who is actually reading your words; and I find that thought scary. Judging a Twilight fan really isn’t the same as judging someone’s “degree” of sadness, and while everyone is entitled to their opinion, there are some things that are better left unsaid (or at least, said differently).**

You’re also free to disagree with what I just said, of course. (and to say so in the comments section; I’ll be happy to discuss it!) 😉

In conclusion (“Finally!”, you’ll say) : Personally I loved it. I still believe that Hannah’s act of sending the tape wasn’t an innocent one, but the book does give you a strong perspective of both sides : the one who commits the act, and the ones who are left behind. In a way, it does leave you with more question than answers, but it also opens your mind on the subject, giving you a lot to think about.

** EDITED to add : I probably could have done shorter and said : if you don’t find Hannah’s justifications enough, blame it on the author rather than on the girl; again, it’s fine to think an author did a poor job with the story, but to say so of the girl who took her life might hurt. The reason I say this is that I heard similar things in real life, too, and I believe there is a big difference between judging an author’s work (which is fair) and a person’s life (even a fictional one, in this case, because, as this book very well showed, you never know who will read your words and what effect those will have.)

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5 responses to “Review : Thirteen Reasons Why”

  1. Amanda says :

    I agreed that Hannah’s reasons may not seem like adequate justification for everyone to kill herself, but listening to her tapes, I think Asher does a good job showing that Hannah herself thought it was good enough reason. People kill themselves over trivial things all the time. In fact, it’s generally the more trivial things that push people over. People who have suffered huge, horrific ordeals often have something more to cling to, whereas people who kill themselves, many times, don’t seem to have a lot of justification at all. I thought this was a very realistic portrayal, and i get the impression that many people saying Hannah was stupid and unbelievable are those who have never experienced the sort of depression Hannah experienced, where everything is magnified and distorted against her.

    This is a very personal subject to me, too, because my best friend was so often on the brink of suicide in high school. I had a really hard time writing my review of this book, and ended up getting very personal as well.

    I would love to listen to the audio on this one. I’ve heard – though I’m not sure where, so this might not be true – that there are two readers, a guy for Clay and a girl for Hannah, to give the listener a better idea of what it’s like to hear Hannah’s tapes.

    And btw, my overriding emotion for everyone in the story was that I felt sorry for all of them.

  2. bermudaonion says :

    I enjoyed this book, but did feel like Hannah blamed everyone else for everything – even things that were her fault. That’s probably pretty typical for a teen-ager, though. I did wonder where her parents were, though. I also felt like the author should have included the warning signs of suicide.

  3. uncertainprinciples says :

    I read this book a few months back, and thought it was well-written, barring, as you mentioned, the lack of ONE strong enough reason for Hannah to take her own life. 13 reasons, and not one of them just went *click*.

    Maybe I’m being insensitive.

  4. lena says :

    I appreciate that you’re bring up an important point for discussion. It may be because I’m still incredibly young (20), but I felt like I understood Hannah. It wasn’t ONE thing that pushed her over, it was a combination of them. Trekking on by yourself in a teenage world is harder than doing it in an adult world, in my opinion because by the time you’re there, it feels like you have more perspective.

    It felt like Asher was making a distinct point of saying that it doesn’t have to be one event.

    I think her parents would have noticed if something huge happened, or a school counselor, teacher, etc., but because it was a million little things – she slipped through the cracks.

    I will admit that I had hoped that since her funeral wasn’t in the same town that she hadn’t actually died. 😦

  5. Rebecca says :

    I am wanting to read this book. I haven’t seen a negative review of it.

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