13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Published: October 2007
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a rather dark look at teenage suicide.
Before we proceed. I actually reviewed this on Goodreads a while ago, and realized I had put off airing it here. Apparently even I am not above censorship – of myself. This is a difficult book to review. It doesn’t matter what I say, someone will take offence. Unfortunately, few of us get by without knowing someone who has taken their own life. It is not pleasant for family or friends. So, let’s all take a deep breath and remember….this is my opinion. You are welcome to your own. Let us also remember…..this is fiction. If a book bothers you, stop reading it. That is why I decided to finally review it. As it was originally meant to be. A book. A fiction book. So, on the merits of it being a work of fiction, let’s go.
Clay Jensen arrives home to find a package waiting for him. Inside are a number of cassette tapes, from Hannah Baker. Clay was half in love with Hannah. He misses her. Hannah committed suicide two weeks ago. On those tapes, Hannah tells Clay that there are 13 reasons why she took her life…and he is one of them. He doesn’t understand. He hasn’t done anything wrong! If he wants to know more, he has to listen to all the tapes, and as per her instructions, he then has to pass them on to the next one in line. Clay listens. He follows Hannah’s story across his hometown, stopping at places she mentions on the tapes, following a young girl’s descent. A descent into despair.
This book draws the reader in, just as the tapes drew Clay in. As you follow Clay, and hence Hannah, you aren’t sure you want to continue. Yet you want to know…
I found the book, if not totally enjoyable, mesmerizing. The writing is good, the story line original, the characters deep (including those that are very shallow). The author really made you feel for Clay even more than you felt for Hannah. His emotions were raw, and felt true. I think Jay Asher nailed the overall emotions of his characters.
Now, I guess I’m going to make a few other comments anyway. Yes, the book has become rather controversial, as a lot of people think it actually glamorizes teen suicide, and shows that there is no help out there for the troubled teen. However, people who think teenagers will commit suicide because of a book, murder because of a video game, have sex because of a movie….give teens very little credit. They are much more likely to follow the lead of their family and peers than they are what they read or watch.
Second, there is ALWAYS help out there if you ask. For the purposes of his book, the author intentionally made it look like there was nowhere to go, and that nobody noticed. We know that is rarely true. Help is everywhere if you ask. The author had Hannah dance around it, leaving everyone blaming themselves, while she never flat out asked anyone for help. She expected everyone to understand her subtle hints, and when they didn’t, lamented “no one cares”. But as a teenager, that may ring true. She is very self-centered, and as a teenager, you take every slight more seriously, and feel the world is against you. Most of us get over it. Those that don’t, well, most get help, and the others we pray for. And yes, for the plot to work, no one notices anything wrong with Hannah. In real life, I think someone, even her distracted parents, would have noticed something. In particular, one of the teachers handed out a list of what to look for in suicidal friends. Hannah had a couple of those traits that would have raised a red flag. Friends, teachers, people in general, are much more aware now, and something would have been done. Again, the lack of awareness works well for the plot of the story.
I also wonder if a truly suicidal person would have the strength to reason out exactly who and why someone else is to blame, much less 13 people. Let’s face it, when you are mentally unstable, you are not thinking clearly, so although it makes for an interesting plot, I don’t believe it would work quite so well in real life. Again, that is why this is fiction.
Now, this book is not for everyone. Neither are horror books, or romance novels. They can leave a lasting impressions, like nightmares, or unrealistic expectations of love. But these books are all fiction. If you want to read true accounts of suicidal people, they are out there. This is fiction. On the other hand, if this book gets people talking about teen suicide, maybe that’s okay too.
The book has been made into a hit television series, which I have not yet watched, although I am starting it.
Again, taken as a work of fiction, I liked the book. It had an interesting plot, interesting characters, and good writing.
Read: October 2017
Favorite Quotes from 13 Reasons Why:
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.
“A lot of you cared, just not enough.”
About the Author: Jay Asher (1975 – ) is an American author of contemporary fiction. His debut novel, 13 Reasons Why, was Number 1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List, and has won many awards. Throughout his life he worked in various establishments, including as a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of his work experiences had an impact on some aspect of his writing.