Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Summary: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen 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.
Review: Wow. Wow. I was not disappointed by this book. I finally picked it up because, despite having owned it for some eight months now, it’s my library’s book club book, and volunteering there every week, my supervisor begged me to come for a meeting. So I finally had an excuse to read this book everyone had been calling a masterpiece. And they were right. It was amazing, and took my breath away. Asher writes the narrative beautifully, and I loved how it “alternated” points of view while keeping the narratives together.
Having lost a classmate and friend to suicide barely two months ago, this book took on a different meaning for me than it would have had I read it before the beginning of March. The entire book, I kept hearing my friend’s voice in my head, reading Hannah’s tapes, wondering what would I do if I were Clay. Already having lost her the one time, having that be painful enough, then having to hear her voice all over again and know it’s too late to save her? It was a one-sitting read, and it was hard to see, from an outside perspective, the exact same thing I’ve experienced in the last two months. Painful, but beautiful. I applaud you, Asher.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- I loved the idea of cassette tapes. I read Asher’s Q & A in the back, and I agree with his decision one hundred percent–they’re meant to be old, not up to date, which would have made the book seem old in a couple of years. And picturing Clay walking around town, having to pause at the end of each tape and force himself to think while fumbling to flip the tape over or put a new one it…it was powerful. Each story was easily separated, without being choppy.
- It was so powerful; all of it. Hannah’s story, the way she explains how all the little things eventually just piled up on top of her and made it too hard to go on. When she finally made the decision and how she didn’t just wake up one day and say to herself, “It’s over.” It was so hard, more hard than I explain, to read Clay listening to those tapes, finally seeing all the warning signs that were already there and having missed them. Because I could see the same types of warning signs in my friend, and they never added up, and by the time you could decipher them, it was too late. Now, don’t get me wrong. Hannah Baker is nothing at all like my friend–my friend was super popular, beautiful, a great athlete, got near-perfect grades, and had the entire world in the palm of her hand. Nobody disliked her, and she was friendly to everybody, went out of her way to make kids who looked lonely feel included. She was no Hannah; and I may never have an answer, a reason, for why she did what she did, as she left nothing behind, but for some reason, they seemed so similar. After all, to go to such lengths, she must have been hiding something, right? And hearing her voice, rather than a made-up Hannah voice, in the back of my head when I read felt so real that I teared up. Every single time. And by the time I got to Hannah talking to Mr. Porter, I was full on sobbing, hearing Clay begging Mr. Porter to not let her go, for her to turn around and tell him the truth, knowing it was too late, hearing my own Hannah in the back of my head, saying it was too late, that she was sorry, and thank you for everything. I don’t think a book has ever done that to me before. Left me on a couch in my living room, sobbing, knowing I was just like that main character, begging for the life of someone already gone to be saved. It didn’t help matters that a few weeks ago, I found a bookmark she’d made me when we were thirteen, and I’ve been using it ever since–it was sitting next to my copy of this book when I finished, her name printed on it. Asher tells the truth, as plainly and as absolute as it is. He chooses the perfect words, the perfect way to describe things, from Clay to Hannah. Especially the part where Tony admits Hannah gave him her bike, saying she wanted him to save it–practically the exact same thing happened with my friend, who gave her best friend a piece of jewelry, and nobody understood why until it was too late. It was like watching the life I’ve experienced in the past two months played out in this book. And while part of me wishes I could have read it before I could have formed such a connection to it, another part of me is glad my timing turned out that way–because would it have affected me the same way? Of course not. This book is a learning experience. I could see Hannah in my friend, Clay in myself, and everyone else around me. It was hard, yeah; really hard. But it opened my eyes and Asher’s words still ring in my head sometimes when I think about her now. I can’t imagine what that would have been like; hearing her voice after she was gone, being told why I was part of the reason she was gone. Losing her was hard enough, and I can’t even imagine how the thirteen people on those tapes must have felt, knowing that, at least in some small way, they caused her death. It’s traumatizing, but it’s real. And that’s what makes it so scary and emotional.
- Asher told the story perfectly. He didn’t use too much cursing, or even that much at all, and his sexual content was kept to the bare minimum. No details, nothing except explaining what happened, which wasn’t even that much. Even at the part where you find out what Bryce did to Jessica, what is actually going on isn’t described. It fades out, and even though there’s a rape taking place, Asher doesn’t give details or even a little bit, other than “I heard the springs creak as he got on the bed” and then fades. And the only other thing he does is “I heard his footsteps on the floor when he was done,” etc. Same thing with Bryce feels Hannah up in the hot tub later on. And maybe that’s because a girl on the brink of suicide doesn’t feel like relating those details to people who don’t deserve them (which is near all of the kids on those tapes), but I appreciated that. He kept it “real” or “natural”, where some people might complain that it’s not realistic to keep sexual content or cursing out of a book completely, but didn’t focus on it so much that it made me uncomfortable in any way. It was actually meant to add to the story–not “turn on” the reader, like I feel most authors try to do with their “dirtier” scenes. Thanks, Asher.
- This book was able to open my eyes. I feel like I am legitimately a better person because I have read it, and I’m hoping that having read it might be able to help me recognize more warning signs if the need for me to see them ever arises again. I want to be like Clay in that way–he found Skye at the end, and he went out of his way to try and help her–just in case–and that sealed the book up good and tight for me. It had a happy ending, in a weird sort of way. Hannah left behind a legacy, a reason to try and make things good for others, which is the same thing I experienced after losing my friend. All of us in my junior class banded together and realized that we were a family and we needed each other–people stopped having drama over stupid things, and I don’t know the last time I saw someone honestly put down someone else. Asher had a lesson, and it was a good one to teach. So often people tell us who we should be and why, and how nobody will like us if we aren’t like that–how many people out there are afraid of what their own lives hold and how many can be saved if we try and see what they’re hiding? It was a beautiful, heart wrenching, but honest way to teach that lesson, to start caring about others before ourselves. No, it wasn’t happy in that Hannah wasn’t saved. But maybe somebody else was, and maybe a lot of people after that. And it made me happy, just a little bit, to see that change in Clay.
What I Didn’t Like:
- I wish more time had been spent reliving the aftermath of Hannah’s death. I mean right after. I know going to school that first day, knowing what had happened to our classmate, tore us all apart–it was one of the hardest, most emotional days of my life. I learned a lot about the people around me, and I was able to be closer to those people than I ever had before in my life. It was a life changing experience, not just the loss itself, but the couple weeks that followed, going to school and showing new weakness. The kids in this book didn’t feel as real in the face of Hannah’s suicide, not the way I’ve seen. A lot of them seem to be so unaffected by it, the ones not on the tape–and that just wasn’t realistic, to me. It would have been nice if the kids in that book, who knew Hannah, would have had a growing experience like that as well. Losing a friend is hard–losing a classmate, even if that’s all they are, is hard, too. And I felt like they all should have been more affected.
Overall: This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. Yes, a lot of books end up making me cry, or be emotional about something or other. But none of them felt so real, so much like I was being inserted into the story and having to relive an awful experience all over again, in the worst way possible. I felt like I had lost her all over again, and I spent several hours when I was done mourning her again. It was so real, and so achingly beautiful, so horribly honest–and sometimes, with subjects like suicide, that seem both so close for some of us and so far away for others, it’s important to be that honest. Asher had a real masterpiece here, and I’d recommend it to anybody in a heartbeat–especially those who have lost someone to suicide. It hurts; it hurts like heck. But it’s open and makes you realize it’s okay to miss them that badly, even if you weren’t the closest person to them. Thanks for that, Asher. It made a lot of things easier.