Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: 13 Reasons Why


13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Number Title for Triple 8 Challenge; sounded interesting

Book description: "Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 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."

First line: "'Sir?' she repeats. 'How soon do you want it to get there?'"

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. The premise is really a good one - it gets you hooked from the start, wondering what the deal is with the tapes.

But I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to find Hannah stupid for her decision or truly hard-suffering. Or something in between. That's probably the point - her decision will resonate differently with different readers.

I don't want to give away too much, but I have to say, as someone who has found themselves in the pit of despair and someone who didn't have a fab time of it as a fat, weird girl in high school, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for her. Part of it could be that it's a bit hard to keep track of the timeline - the compressed nature of the taped storytelling makes it seem like weeks, yet the events seem to have taken place over two years. Hannah refers to similar events happening in the previous town her family lived in. So, I guess she's meant to have been suffering for years. Yet...some rumors, a couple of bitchy girls, a mean jerk, a creepy jerk, and one really bad guy just don't add up to suicide for me. But then, I guess that's the point - we often never know what leads to suicide and Hannah decides to try and rectify that.

Near the end, Clay says, "Some of us will be too angry at Hannah for killing herself and blaming everyone else." I'm one of those people. She could have turned one jerk in to a teacher, turned the creep over to the police, sucked it up about the bitchy girls like we all have to do... While a few of the people on the tapes really did behave terribly, most of them didn't. Kids endure sexual abuse, horrific bullying in school and online, racism, orphanhood, poverty... Hannah's problems weren't much beyond garden variety, it seemed to me. If she had endured real hardships, the tapes would be understandable, but all she's really doing is making life miserable for 8 people who may not have used the best judgement and weren't as kind as they should have been and one who really tried to help her but she refused the help. Only 3 people really deserved true punishment. Plus, Hannah herself allows a horrible thing to happen to someone else, much worse than anything she's experienced, so she shouldn't be throwing stones. But again, some things do seem to be left out of her story, so perhaps she only told the "relevant" parts to the people on her list.

Overall, though it was a really interesting book. Heavy, but thought-provoking. I hope it shows teens the importance of treating other people well and also that suicide isn't the answer.

22 comments:

Alea said...

I haven't read this book yet but by your review I think I'll feel the same way. It's a tough subject no matter how you look at it and it hits too close to home. But i think i should read it nonetheless, I'm just a little scared to.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

It's definitely a tough subject. It's a really interesting, visceral look at the subject, but it's also done well. There are just no easy answers in the book, just as there aren't in life.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the book, but I have to agree with you. Hannah to me came off as a stupid whiny girl saying at one part " I didn't care what they said about me anymore" well if you didn't, why in gods name did you kill yourself??

I just really hated Hannah, although it is sad, Clay shouldn't have to go through this he really is a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the book, but I have to agree with you. Hannah to me came off as a stupid whiny girl saying at one part " I didn't care what they said about me anymore" well if you didn't, why in gods name did you kill yourself??

I just really hated Hannah, although it is sad, Clay shouldn't have to go through this he really is a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

sorry for the double post

Sarah said...

Yeah, I was kinda frustrated that we were supposed to commiserate with Hannah's decision to kill herself and blame everyone but her that she did! The moral of being intentional about how you treat people was good, but it shouldn't have been coupled with the threat of suicide!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading it and it was disappointing. Really compelling, but Hannah was so wildly unlikable. I just felt terrible for everyone who had to listen to her, especially Jessica. Because what she did to her was so much worse than anything anybody did to her. Also, the part at the end where Clay decides (SPOILER!) that he's going to save some random girl from the suicidal depression from which she obviously suffers based on her baggy clothes and her not hanging out with popular kids anymore. I mean, really? The whole book had this weird paternalistic overtone for me, like, oh! If only someone would force these girls to listen to nice boys who can save them from themselves!

Also, the writing was terrible.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't put the book down, i read it all in one day. I found the ending a bit dissapointing. I didn't really like Hannah at first she goes from blaming everyone to feeling sorry for herself.

Anonymous said...

well I thought this book was really good. I have to say one of my favorites, but you do prove the point she does seem really whiny. The tapes make her seem like a little coincided bitch (excuse language). Those people don't seem half as bad as she makes them seem.

Anonymous said...

i loved this book because i can relate to most of the things that happened to her

Anonymous said...

well i just got done reading it and i have to say i'm on the fence about it. i did like it because in a way it kind of reminded me of the book "go ask alice" except suicide. but hannah can't blame anybody but herself because she could have prevented some of the things that happened. she could have called the police on both of those guys and that girl but she decided not to. she wanted everybody to come to her rescue but in return she didn't help anybody else. i'm on the fence. i'm not sure what to think

Kate said...

I liked this book. To me, the point is not the fact that she committed suicide and then blamed everyone-I think she was sick. She probably had a crap home life too, and she chose to lash out at others. I think when Clay goes to the outcast to talk to her at the end, he's not thinking she's suicidal but he realizes he needs to cherish people in his life, even the strangers, because the next moment they're gone.

Anonymous said...

poor clay. it's really sad i have to agree with that. i even cried at some points... but what's even more sad than that is that there are kids out there that think this way and feel this way as well. this book has a moral to it and the moral is that we need to watch what we say and think about what we may be doing that affects other peoples lives in a negative way.

BigTimeBookworm said...

i loved this book. i honestly did. and i think that hannah shouldn't be hated because she was miserable, and yes she should've told somebody that she was considering suicide but still, no one should hate her...
jay asher is trying to send out a message to readers. we need to be careful about what we say and think about how we act towards other people and how it could affect their lives.

Anonymous said...

hannah was not mentally stable and all of these things pushed her off the edge, like the snowball effect she was talking about. hannah did go to her teacher for help, but she wasn't helped. her suicide could have been prevented because all the signs were there. she wasn't "whiny" she needed help. when someone is that low they don't know how to stop themselves from commmitting suicide. btw if anyne liked this book a lot like i did you should read wintergirls by laurie halse anderson.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a really good book. I dont think she was whiny, but the point wasnt what she sounded like. Some people are not seeing the point of the book. It was on my summer reading lists and it sounded really good so I read it, I know a lot of others that read it at school. The point is to show that suicide isnt good, it hurts everybody, just because you think nobody loves you and you think if you leave the world that everything will be better, it wont. Also it shows that we need to think of how we are treating each other. We need to be careful what we say. Some things we say might hurt someone else.

Anonymous said...

I just got done reading this tonight, and I must say that Hannah isn't lashing out or blaming everyone on the list. She is saying that they all played a part in her decision to kill herself. There were only a few people on the list she really hated and smited. I thought the book was great, and the list was still interesting even when you passed Clay's tape.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that certain people do not understand Hannah's point of view is something Asher is trying to exemplify throughout the entirety of the book. Hannah, which we can deduce through her view is clearly suffering depression, from at least half way through the book, so she wouldn't have understood that she wasn't alone and had that talking would help her. This also highlights the ignorance of the general populace unaware of victims of depression, as through the main narrator, Clay, we discover various failed attempts at identifying Hannah's main problem. Depression is serious and as for many of the comments displayed above, it is not wise to judge the attention plea made by Hannah on several occasions which are ignored.

As for the people featured on the tapes-as pointed out by Hannah, these were the ones that contributed to the 'snowball effect', which would indicate that she would have 'sucked up' when dealing with the other irrelevant bullies.

Honestly, I think Asher has a fantastic insight into teenage depression/and suicide which should be discussed more often these days.

Overall, I loved reading this book and would recommend it to those up for the challenge of it's heavy topics.

Anonymous said...

When I finished this book, I was really irritated with it. Hannah seemed really whiny and shallow even with her illness. Despite my own experiences that made me feel just as depressed as she did, I found a way out of it, so I was disappointed that she couldn't do the same. Instead, she let the reasons for her own decision be shared among other people.
I've heard many times that people like this book because it shows you how your words/actions affect other people. Personally, I think that's really pathetic that people can't figure that out without having to read about a suicidal teenager. High school is a shallow place and a terrible environment for those suffering depression, no doubt. Still, I don't approve of Hannah's suicide.
Depression is obviously an illness, so Hannah's judgement was not as sound as a "regular" person's may be. It's also not an excuse for making bad decisions. You can't destroy your belongings, drop out of school, hurt the people around you, or any such thing and simply blame in on your depression, can you? The same should be said about suicide. You may be impaired, but you still have a conscience- you are not a victim.
It does seem very much like Hannah blames everyone else for her decision. Whether or not she actually blames them is questionable, but she clearly lets other people influence her so much that it destroys her sense of hope. She abandons her future just because the present sucks. If that were the way everyone lived, then nearly everyone would be miserable and there would be a ton of suicides! She is totally passive and paralyzed by her depression, and she could have done something to change that. Even for people who are entrenched in their depression, there is always a way out of it (or so I would like to believe since it was the case for me). She should have made it more obvious how depressed she was. She should have looked for help. She should have helped herself, found something to live for, anything. Ultimately, getting out of depression is your own responsibility- it's an internal thing, and other people can only give you support and a bit of insight during that struggle.

So my personal opinion- a lot of people will believe that it is everyone else's fault that someone tries to commit suicide after reading this. The fact that your actions affect other people should be obvious, and if you think that what happened to Hannah would be a justified reason to commit suicide (especially without having been severely depressed), that's an insult to the people who have had far more traumatic experiences and still find reason to live.
There's always something to live for, and suicide is never justified.

For people who are willing to discuss it, I guess this would be a good example for debating. Still, I don't like how hyped up people are about this bestseller.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Wow! Lots of strong feelings about this book!

Rick said...

Within the great amount of books I've read Reasons why is one of the best. There are only two books that got me astonished first the previous one I mentioned and then a book regarding that medicament called Tadalafil.

Linda said...

I just closed the book, and this review reflects my feelings almost exactly. What a great premise! What an elegant, organic structure created by the tapes! So why does this book not satisfy? I kept feeling that Asher was holding something back, that he is capable of much more than he's done here. Was he trying to avoid the ire of narrow-minded parents and would-be book banners? This book should have been much better than it is.