13 Reasons Why

I tend to gravitate towards downer books (and films and music). I like sad. Sad and romantic? Better still. Even so, I’m not sure I would have picked up Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why if it wasn’t this month’s selection over at readergirlz. At first look, the premise seems just too sad, even for me. The story is so sad, that I got suspicious. It made me think that the book was just calling out for attention or controversy. I was wrong, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a package on his doorstep. Inside the package is a bunch of cassette tapes recorded by his former classmate (and crush), Hannah Baker. Hannah committed suicide a few weeks before, and on the tapes she explains thirteen reasons for choosing to end her life. (Not exactly light reading). The novel follows Clay from the time he receives the tapes, all through the night and into the next day, as he travels around town, bearing witness to Hannah’s most difficult experiences.

This story will grab you and refuse to let go until you’re finished. In that way, it sort of mirrors Clay’s own experience with “the Hannah Tapes.” He starts listening and can’t stop until he’s worked his way through all of them. Asher really succeeds in getting you inside Hannah’s head, and that is absolutely critical to the power of his story. I suppose there’s an element of voyeurism to the tension in this book. You want to understand what would lead someone with her whole future ahead to kill herself. You’re basically listening in on a dead girl’s secrets. That’s creepy, but it’s compelling creepy. Hannah’s voice is completely honest and real, and in the beginning, not all that likeable. She’s so angry and seemingly vindictive. It’s a bit uncomfortable feeling that you don’t much like this girl, knowing her fate, but as the story progresses and Hannah’s pain and depression just seep out of every word on the tapes, you start to feel such a connection to this character. This is a deep book, and it doesn’t offer simple messages about teen suicide, which I think is just the way it should be. The ending will really make you think.

I can’t wait for the live chat with Jay Asher on July 24th at the readergirlz forum. This book – and topic – should certainly make for an interesting and important discussion.

4 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why

  1. Paige Y.

    I thought this was one of the best books I read last year. My daughter also read it and loved it and it’s made its way through the teachers at my school.

    I agree with your assessment of Hannah. I felt for her but yet through the tapes she ruined thirteen people’s lives.

    One of the things that I think kids will really get from reading the book is that idea that what we say and do matters. We may only think that we are teasing, but many times that chips away at a person’s soul.

  2. cloudscome

    I am really enjoying your book reviews lately. I haven’t read most of these books but now they are on my list. Thanks!

  3. shelfelf Post author

    Paige, I think you’re right that this book has the power to make kids realize that you never know how your words might impact another person. That’s a great lesson for teens (and adults too, I think).

    Glad you’re enjoying the reviews Cloudscome! I like reading books that aren’t hot off the presses, because that way I feel like I’m responding to the book honestly, without being influenced too much by other reviewers’ opinions.

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