“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people.”
Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Read if You Liked: All the Bright Places -Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska -John Green
Rating: 4 out of 5 hearts
Tomorrow is Celebrate Teen Literature Day, so I thought I’d pick a YA novel for our first official book review. This novel’s been around for a bit, but I first picked up Thirteen Reasons Why from my department head. I needed a distraction after grading my Achebe* off last week, and ended up reading this little gem in less than a day. Even when I was toting the book around, I had multiple students come up to me and get excited that I was reading it, gushing over how much they loved it. And how couldn’t they? The story is compelling and funny, but ultimately serious and honest.
Thirteen Reasons Why follows valedictorian-bound Clay Jensen who receives a box of cassette tapes and map from a dead girl. Hannah Baker, Clay’s classmate and coworker, committed suicide shortly before the beginning of the novel. Still in the throes of grief and confusion over her death, Clay receives something that so few of us get during the numb period after tragedy: answers.
As Clay pops in the first cassette, he hears Hannah’s voice, a voice he thought he’d never hear again: “Hello boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore, and this time absolutely no requests. I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why it ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”
On Hannah’s haunting audio tour, there are thirteen sides, thirteen locations, thirteen listeners, and thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Each listener must listen to all the tapes then pass them onto the next person. But what if someone decides not to listen or chuck them in the trash? Don’t worry, dear reader, Hannah’s thought of that too. If they don’t pass it on, the tapes and her story will be made public and everyone will know their roles in her death.
This book is heavy from the get-go. I mean what could be more terrifying, more gut-dropping than knowing that you were a reason someone killed him/herself? That your actions, no matter how insignificant at the time, led to the destruction of someone. That you and your carelessness were the push over the edge. This story has momentum from the beginning because of that fear. The reader feels compelled to know how Clay fits into this, how all these little actions led up to something so tragic.
I’m a big fan of how the narrative is told. For the majority of the book, each chapter is a side of the tape, and we receive Clay’s internal dialogue as he listens. The narration reads as simultaneous multiple perspective which I really haven’t seen too much of and can’t readily think of another example. Asher could have easily gone with a typical dual perspective, splitting up the chapters by Hannah’s tape, then Clay’s response to the tape. Instead, Asher has Clay’s response right in the middle of Hannah’s tape, with him starting, stopping, and processing the information in real-time for the reader. It’s such an interesting way to control the information given to the reader, and I think Asher does a compelling job of using this narration to push the reader forward.
I was drawn to the subject matter and the idea of the book as a whole. There are not enough examples of literature–let alone absorbing, well-written literature–that deals with suicide. I’ve read a lot of what I call “shock” YA Fiction where authors attempt to get into the maudlin, hopeless nature of teen depression and suicide. So much of the time they focus on the the actual desperate act of suicide or the messy aftermath. I think Asher hits the mark with looking not just at the tragic end, but how all the small, seemingly insignificant actions of others led to it. How all the dots were there on the map, how all the warning signs were there in front of them, but no one made the connections. So Hannah took it upon herself to connect them for everyone.
After reading this book, I feel changed. I’ve been looking at my small actions all week, and the reverberating effects of small, careless comments. After reading Thirteen Reasons Why, like Hannah tells the listeners of the audio tapes, “you can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were,” and reminds us that “All you really have is…now.”
Lit & Love,
For more information:
Pick up a copy of 13 Reasons Why from Amazon here.
Check out Jay Asher’s website here.
Check out the 13 Reasons Why website here.
*We use famous author names instead of swearwords, a la John Green on Crash Course.