Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher

Series: N/A

Genre: YA Contemporary

Publisher: Puffin

Summary (From Goodreads)

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 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.

What’s Good About It

The writing is that brand of compelling that sucks you in so much you don’t even feel the slightest temptation to look ahead a few chapters to see if anything interesting is coming up (something I am prone to do). It’s the sort of book you read in one short, intense sitting. Unputdownable. Which says something about the quality of the narrative, because in a minute I’ll come to some major flaws I felt the book had.

The dual narrative worked really well. I loved the contradicting views presented by Hannah and Clay – both not sure about what the other thought of them, and Clay’s growing desperation as he listens to the tapes, waiting for his to come up.

There’s also some excellent psychology. One scene in particular, towards the end, was a very powerful insight into the mind of someone who just needs that excuse to end it all. Though I felt some of the reasons she decided to give up were a bit on the pathetic side, the moment where she chooses to give up completely was poignant and frighteningly believable.

Clay’s thoughts about the tapes worked well too – his accusations towards Hannah kept the book from being entirely unbelievable. When Hannah did something, or said something that prompted me to think ‘get over it’ Clay would be there, not echoing my thoughts exactly, but providing the voice of reason if you will, shedding light on Hannah from the outside perspective, highlighting her sometimes warped view of things. Without this, I think I would have struggled to finish the book – but by giving the reader that awareness, through Clay, that we weren’t always meant to empathise with Hannah and her decisions, made it all a lot easier to swallow.

I did like the idea, and the execution of, the snowball effect – how it wasn’t just one event that prompted Hannah’s suicide, but a series of small events that picked up momentum until they were insurmountable. The idea of that inescapable depression that only feeds itself was haunting, and really made you think about how your actions affect others. However…

What’s Not So Good

…Some of the things on the list were just silly. Okay, each on its own was a fairly uncomfortable to horrible thing to happen, and together would amount to something that would make you very unhappy. But she had good things happen too, and some of the things were just ridiculous. It’s difficult to talk about it without giving stuff away, but most of the events were nothing more than what most normal teenagers go through. I’ve had worse stuff happen to me than some of the things she goes on about, and I think the majority of readers would feel the same. The one truly traumatic event that happened happened to someone else. Hannah remarked that that character’s life would be ruined, yet that character was one of the people on the tapes. So, in her final act of retaliation, Hannah decided to pile a load of guilt onto a person whose life she already knows is ruined? Sorry, but if Hannah felt any guilt for her part in that character’s downfall, which she professed to, then she would have left her well alone.

Okay, yes, I could buy that all the reasons added up to suicide, if something momentously bad happened towards the end – the proverbial straw – and I can sort of see how it could be argued that Hannah just had a personality that tended towards depression. But even if the reasons weren’t an issue, I still feel like it’s an incredibly vindictive thing to do. Those tapes will haunt those people for the rest of their lives. That made it difficult to connect with her character, or feel any sympathy towards her. More so because of the flakiness of some of the reasons – I truly felt a couple of the characters didn’t deserve the retribution.

That said, it was an absorbing read and an interesting idea. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for Jay Asher’s future work, because I think there is great potential in this book. Maybe his next one will live up to that.

Rating: 3.5/5

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