I cannot get this book out of my head. Seriously. I am not exaggerating when I say that I read the entire book in a three-hour car ride last Saturday and have not paused to think about other books since then (well, except maybe for Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol which I read right after but in no way compares- sorry Dan).
This book has thrown my head for a loop. Part of it, for sure, is the fact that it grapples with suicide, which is a difficult topic not only for teenagers like myself but for people in general. It’s especially hard for teens because it’s quite prevalent in the world around us right now. More and more teens are facing difficult issues in their everyday lives and are considering turning to drastic measures to “fix” their problems.
It really upsets me. That’s especially so since I was teased and made fun of when I was younger. I just hate, like Clay in the book, when people say they have no one to talk to or no one to sympathize with. Just like Clay I go, “I’m here! I know how it feels! Talk to me! I want to help!” I realize, like Clay does eventually, that it’s a somewhat wasted effort. People who are suicidal often have the perception that no one understands or wants to help. I don’t think that’s really true.
Back to the book a little bit. Several days (or maybe a couple weeks, I don’t know…) after the suicide of his classmate Hannah Baker, Clay receives a box with mix tapes in the mail with no return address. Curious as most people would be, he starts listening- and what he hears changes his life forever as he realizes the pieces that he and other people around him played in causing Hannah’s suicide. He takes one night and a cassette player, roving around his small town following Hannah’s instructions and just listening.
The book is really well-written compared to other YA realistic fiction (and mystery) books. Jay Asher does a great job of making emotions come to life in both narratives, Clay’s and Hannah’s. I admit that it is definitely a YA lit book, as the writing style is not especially “sophisticated.” However, that is what I believe Jay Asher was going for; trying to make something like teen suicide accessible to read and accessible to discuss for teenagers. It was very, very, very smart to do the double-narrative.
The cassette tape concept was a fantastic idea. In the back of the library copy of the book I borrowed, there was a Q&A with Jay Asher. He said that with modern technology changing so fast, doing something that was “current” when he was writing it would soon be outdated. Yet doing the reverse, having outdated technology and making all the characters know what it is, would make it seems “cooler” and more up-to-date. It’s more timeless that way. Using cassettes was also brilliant since it gave the book formatting in terms of chapter division. That made the book clearer, and it made for especially suspenseful cliff-hangers for both the reader and main character Clay since Hannah would stop on something dramatic and you knew there had to be a period of Clay holding his breath since he had to load the next tape in.
It is a really accessible book. Jay Asher was super-successful in that. The other suicide book I’ve read that was vaguely similar was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar last summer. Don’t get me wrong, I adore that book. Extremely good writing, excellent mentality to it, characters well-developed and intriguing. But it doesn’t open itself up to teen readers as much, and it doesn’t ease the discussion of suicide in any way, really. This book, Thirteen Reasons Why, is opposite of that in many ways for teens. The characters’ mentalities are less thought-out and are more irrational- much more like actual teenagers. The idea and topic of committing suicide is, I can’t exactly describe, not as blunt. Hannah doesn’t treat it as the only option at first like Esther does. The best part of Thirteen Reasons Why, though, is the way that it shows the after-effects on the people surrounding those who commit suicide. It’s amplified by the fact that Hannah is telling her story and explaining to all of these people how they added to her decision.
The one part I didn’t really understand was the concept behind why Clay was on the tapes. Readers had heard throughout the first section of the book what Clay was thinking about it, and then when it finally came to his part, I was confused. Why would Jay Asher make Clay have less of a dramatic story than Justin, per se? I would think that Jay Asher would try to make the main character deeply involved or intertwined, but no. Was it an attempt to keep Clay more of an outsider, a bit more of a goody two-shoes? I don’t know, but if I had to change one thing, that’s what it would be.
I give Thirteen Reasons Why four and a half stars. It’s a truly amazing book for making hard-to-reach topics like suicide and reaching out for help more accessible. I took off the half star because the main character’s part was more removed, which in turn made me think that Hannah just put Clay on the tapes so he could hear the story. Oh well. It was a fantastic book. Kept me glued to it. I swear I was gripping the hardcover so tightly during the car ride that my hands alternated between pale white and bright red. Read this book. It’s amazing just for the way it makes you think afterwards, and the captivating manner of its lyrical writing.
It may not be the most enjoyable book in the world, but it is definitely a game-changing YA one.
Oh, and one last thought- I know it’s probably a terrible idea and cheesy to do this, but like Jay Asher says in the Q&A at the end of the book, if Hannah’s feelings resonate with you in a really current way, look for help. Please. That’s all I can ask, except for enjoying the book.