Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Rating: 4 Stars
” For the longest time, from almost day one at this school, it seemed that I was the only one who cared about me.
Put all of your heart into getting that first kiss…only to have it thrown back in your face.
Have the only two people you truly trust turn against you. Have one of them use you to get back at the other, and then be accused of betrayal.”
Dear fellow Babblers,
Tell me: is it possible that a single stack of pages onto which patterns of letters, forming fluid and meaningful sentences, could be capable of touching my heart in a way that not even a person has ever managed to accomplish before? This is exactly how I feel upon finishing 13 Reasons Why. From beginning to end of this raw, perhaps romanticized, novel about a victimized girl, Hannah Baker, recounting the 13 individuals who, in one way or another, served as catalyst for her fatal decision, my throat was in knots and tears were on the verge of flooding my eyes. And let me tell you why…
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
This book is marvelously told by the perspectives of two victims: Hannah Baker, who kills herself, and Clay Jensen, who listens to the thirteen tapes onto which Hannah records the motives behind her timely death. During the weeks leading up to her suicide, Hannah records the stories and connections each of these 13 people who will listen to the tapes, only to watch their lives changing forever, and then pass it to the next listener.
Clay is the ninth to receive the tapes as a mysterious package arrives on his front doorsteps only two weeks after Hannah’s suicide. The novel takes place over the course of a single evening as Clay walks through his neighborhood visiting diners, gas stations, and parks, according to a complimentary map drawn out by Hannah that gives the location where each incident motivating her decision unraveled.
I won’t go too deep into what Hannah says in each of these tapes, as I do not want to give too much away for those of you who have not yet read the book.
What really caught be in this book was the domino effect that Hannah incessantly alludes to. All these minor, perhaps potentially non heartbreaking events that occur in her life from being bullied, to having rumors spread about her, to witnessing a rape, all, in one way or another, connect back to one another. We all have either been victims or perpetrators of high school dramas and have enjoyed, thrived off of, and participated in all of its meaninglessness and consequences. 13 Reasons Why gives us the ultimate extreme, showing us what could happen from these actions that we, as teenagers, have once thought of as just “fun and games.”
Many readers criticize the book for its romanticized treatment of a very complex subject, suicide reasoning that nothing really “that bad” even happens to Hannah. Who is anyone to judge what is “that bad”…? We all have our own coping mechanisms, distinct histories, and distorted memories that shape our tolerance levels for pain. Sure, perhaps Hannah should have been a bit stronger. Maybe she was already damaged upon moving this this new town and starting this new school and these thirteen individuals only catalyzed a decision that was already heavy on her mind. As readers, we will never truly know. But this book is not simply about that.
With multiple pauses in the tape to direct attention to Clay, we are shown that things are not really as they always appear. Clay never knew and he admits that he never tried to know or understand the truth behind Hannah’s plastered smiles, betrayed by watery eyes. He often saw her at school, worked alongside her at the movie theater, and made out with her at a single party, but he never got a chance to truly get to know her, and now, never will.
Hannah felt alone, betrayed and with no other choice but to end her life. Clay, along with all the other people mentioned on the tapes, had they tried even a little bit harder, and laughed just a little bit less, maybe there could have been hope for Hannah. Clay repeatedly says that she was not alone and he could have helped her if she had only opened up. Either way, by this point in Hannah’s depression, she was far from being helped. As soon as one makes a decision as this, believe it or not, there is no return.
I know many of you may not agree with some of the statements I am claiming her about suicide, and I am sorry if I am offending any of you. Although this book gives a hidden message that “you are not alone,” at the same time, there comes a point in the mind of one contemplating suicide where all help and hope is no longer an option, as we see in the last tape when Hannah visits Mr. Porter’s office.
This book left me breathless and I still feel the rawness and evocativeness of emotion that carried me through each page. This book is deep and powerfully warns us of the dangers underlying seemingly light actions. I agree with the message that no one is alone, but I also could understand the invisible line that at any moment could be crossed,, rendering all help and hope a faulty illusion.
I recommend this book for all readers: bullies, those being bullied, and those witnessing bullies bullying. You are not alone, but don’t test the bounds, you may just add fuel to the fire….
I have not yet watched the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why, and though I heard that it more or less coincides with the book, I’m always a bit skeptical of watching adaptations of books I loved because I feel as though it can disturb and change the way I perceive the book should I decide to reread it.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)