Early on in Thirteen Reasons Why, I pegged it as the reason I don’t like reading contemporaries. Teenagers making stupid decisions, using bad language just because, thinking they have a clue about romance, but then the deeper I got into the story, the more I started to understand the heart behind it. The more I felt for Hannah, who even though she was making extremely dumb decisions, didn’t deserve the suffering she went through and obviously needed better guidance in her life. I grew more sympathetic towards Clay, who obviously was a nice guy who wanted the best for Hannah.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen 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.
Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.
I attended a writing conference where Jay Asher was the keynote speaker, and I appreciated how honest he was about his writing career. He deemed himself a slow writer, and shared how it took over a decade for him to get his first book published. It was oddly encouraging and discouraging at the same. It’s nice to know published authors have struggles too… but it also makes you worry just how much you’ll struggle in your own process! But it’s worth it, or so I’m led to believe!
All that to say, even though Thirteen Reasons Why is not normally something I would gravitate towards, when my co-worker who also attended the conference asked me if I wanted to borrow it and read it, I decided I did want to read the story that was on Jay’s heart and that first got him published. Funnily enough, this book first came on my radar several years ago when I was in college, when I was mostly removed from reading YA but not opposed to it, I just read hardly any for fun at the time due to busyness of life. I didn’t read it then, but I’m glad I read it now; I think I understood it better now than I would have then.
I saw one review on Goodreads where the reviewer said that the book was unrealistic in that Hannah’s reasons for suicide didn’t make sense, and that Mr. Porter didn’t handle the situation well when she came to him. But I have to disagree. I might have felt the same way ten years ago, but after living a little more life I find that I understand it a little better than I would have even as a teen. Because I used to think depression was something you could just “get over,” like many people sadly think. But I have taken enough psychology classes to realize that isn’t true, that it’s real and it may not be rational, but it hurts and it’s not something easy to handle. And while her situations, though sad, may not have seemed extreme to or me, to her it was more than she could bear. As far as Mr. Porter goes, he was teacher trying to play the role of counselor, trying his very, very best to get to the heart of the issues that Hannah brought him, but he did not even have the proper training. She shut him out when he accidentally said the wrong thing. It was a lose-lose situation.
I liked the way the story was told in the dual POV between Clay in current time and Hannah on the tapes, but I admit I got confused more than once, even though the different view points are clearly distinguished by italics or regular font. I also liked that Asher decided to use tapes, and have the characters acknowledge it was old, instead of using CDs or MP3s and acting like it’s normal, when those may seem outdated ten years from now. The lack of pop culture references in general made this a better contemporary in my opinion.
But speaking of the tapes, I got lost in the number of tapes Clay had listened to and how many people had been mentioned. I assume Jay matched it up right, but I thought only five people have been mentioned and all of a sudden we were on person #9. It distracted me some. And also speaking of confusion, I got lost on who was who among all the people Hannah talked about, since they all had fairly normal names and we didn’t get to know any of them well enough to be distinguishable.
It’s not an easy read or a fun read because of the subject matter, and it was frustrating at times, but I think it tells an important story. And in the end, there’s a glimmer of hope, which I appreciate.
Content Advisory: Moderate language and sexual content. Non-graphic description of a rape and a couple of other sexually charged activities. None of this is for shock, however, but to tell Hannah’s story.
Have you read Thirteen Reasons Why? If so, what were your thoughts?