Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
I went into reading Thirteen Reasons Why prepared to not like it. Am I super judgy? Yes. But I thought it might be a little too high school for me, overly dramatic and emotional. Was I totally surprised? Absolutely. This was a page-turner that I read over two nights. It is really well crafted with a deep message and great care was taken with the main character. I couldn’t put it down.
I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why.
Hannah committed suicide two weeks previous, and Clay, an acquaintance of hers, just received a box full of old-school cassette tapes from her, with a threat that if he doesn’t listen to them all and then hand them over to the next person on the list, all their dirty little secrets will be made public. It’s a smart post-humous move, because there isn’t a single person who would not be able to listen to those to the end.
This book is composed nearly entirely of two inner monologues layered over each other, one responding to the other. I think the weakness was that one of the voices was much stronger than the other. One voice was real and present and complicated – and it is ironic that this is the dead girl talking. It wasn’t necessarily lopsided, since both points of view were being presented at virtually the same time, but I just wanted Clay to quit his incessant whining and listen to Hannah’s strong, sarcastic voice from beyond the grave. Because there was such clarity and understanding in her story, even as she prepares to end her life.
I found the initial concept of the snowball effect very interesting: one event leads to another leads to another, until people are dead. But is it fair to blame a death on someone being an asshole? It’s a little melodramatic. The reality is, everyone is going through their own shit in high school.
Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Earshot”
To say that a three-year-old rumour is the cause of your suicide is intense. But, Hannah builds her case. She is a girl who was lied about, slut-shamed, harassed, stalked, assaulted and then told to get over it. And the thing that disturbs me is that it is such an ordinary story. There are so many girls who are slut-shamed, who are made to feel like nothing. Most of them don’t kill themselves. They live with their trauma, but a little piece of themselves has been forever changed. Even in Hannah’s story, there is another girl who is raped. She might not commit suicide, but that part of her was taken away and she will have to deal with it forever.
So yes, just a rumour can cause pain and suffering that you never imagined. And I say this as a big supporter of gossip. Human beings will talk about other human beings, it is what we do. But we need to be careful about the things that we say about other people. Making up shit about someone to cause trouble, to make yourself look good or to hurt someone is selfish and destructive.
Also, slut-shaming is evil and should die. And for heaven’s sake, if a girl likes sex, or has had sex with someone before, or someone said that she did at one time, it in no way means that she wants to have sex with you. The end.
Now to the part that I didn't love about the book. Clay, the 9th person to receive the box of tapes, was way too angsty. And also too "perfect," did everything right, and thought of himself in those terms as well. I guess it would be difficult to write from the point of view of a shit bag, as the reader would be hating on him the whole time and he potentially wouldn’t have the empathy needed to treat Hannah and her death tapes with respect. However, he spends the whole time wondering how he could have possibly ended up on the tapes.
Clay loved Hannah from afar but also judged her along with everyone else. I get a lot of Nice Guy(TM) vibes from him, and it did not do it for me. Like, he was so nice and good and she should have therefore wanted him and if she didn’t want him then she was wrong. Except he was still so judgy of her. When they worked at the movie theatre together, he would go crazy when she would laugh and flirt with a known “bad boy.”
I wanted to march into the lobby and ask him to leave. The movie was over and he didn’t need to be here anymore. But that was Hannah’s job. She should have asked him to leave. No, she should have wanted him to leave … Eventually, she said the words that ran through my mind the rest of that night: “You don’t need to watch out for me, Clay.” But I did, Hannah. And I wanted to. I could have helped you. But when I tried, you pushed me away.
Ugh, Clay. This isn’t about you. I had really hoped he done something little, just something so casual that he wouldn't have even noticed it, that pushed Hannah further towards the breaking point. The fact that he believed a rumour about her, anything, to not have all his melodramatic whinging about what a great guy he is who would never treat anyone badly end up to be correct. I think it would have made his character more complex and I would have enjoyed him more.
So while the book suffers from a split personality that does not entirely balance, I still definitely place Thirteen Reasons Why on the to read shelf. Particularly young adults in or entering in high school, I would almost say this is a must read.