“And I walked for hours, imagining the mist growing thick and swallowing me whole. The thought of disappearing like that – so simply – made me so happy.
But that, as you know, never happened.”
– pg. 252
If I’m not getting my YA book recommendations from other bookbloggers, then I am getting them from my 14-year-old sister, K the Older. Who better to recommend YA books than a YA? Last summer, when we were on one of our many summer road trips up and down the east coast, K the Older told me that Thirteen Reasons Why was her favorite book. When she told me what it was about, I didn’t warm up immediately to the premise, but I’m happy to report I am wrong. Besides, I trust my sister; she’s got good taste, so I gave this one a go.
The premise is that one morning, shortly after his crush killed herself, Clay Jensen finds a package on his front porch. When he opens it, he finds 7 tapes, with the sides numbered 1-13. When he puts it into the ancient tape player in his garage, he hears Hannah Baker’s voice – the very same girl who took her own life a few days before. She explains on the tape that there are 13 reasons why she killed herself, and Clay is one of them. Each reason is a person, and the tapes will be sent to each person on the list. If one person fails to pass it on, the tapes will be released to the public, and everyone will know the secrets contained on the tapes.
From the start, I loved Clay. While Hannah and her voice dominate the book, I feel like this is ultimately Clay’s story. How he handles being on the tape, how he handles the burden of knowing who else is on the tape. The structure of the story, with the constantly going back and forth between Clay and Hannah’s voice seemed unsteady at first, but Asher artfully pulls it off. There is such a distinct tone difference between Hannah and Clay that it works. I was very impressed with Asher’s skill, especially for a first-time novelist. This is a difficult novel in many ways, through narration issues, a large cast of characters and such a heavy topic.
I had a hard time feeling sorry for Hannah at first. I found her to be incredibly selfish, but I don’t think this was unintentional on the author’s part. At the beginning, what Hannah is doing with these tapes appears to be all about revenge, about making the people she left behind feel terrible. She’s trying to make them feel as bad as they made her feel, and that’s wrong. She is stooping down to their level. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that it really is a snowball, as Hannah calls it. It begins with the smallest of rumors and escalates until there is no turning back. I think it also became important for us to know that, yes, Hannah is a victim, but she is also responsible for her own actions. She is at least partially responsible, and readily admits it, for the people she did not reach out to and for the mistakes she made. A lot of the problems stem from miscommunications and tragic mistakes.
This is a heavy hitter, and in the hands of a lesser novelist would have been maudlin at best. Jay Asher skillfully paints a realistic portrait of what it is like to be a teenager, where things can too easily spin out of control. Each character is realistically flawed and painfully human. We make mistakes, all of our actions have consequences and we have to learn to live with that. For Hannah, it is too much. She cannot live with what other people have done to her, but she also cannot live with her own part in the events that eventually drive her to suicide.
The things that happened in this novel really do happen in real life and they’re even more prevalent after high school when kids get to college (moms, dads, get used to it.) This book is a great resource for teenagers and adults alike. And for people who fall somewhere in the middle. I read this novel in one sitting and you won’t be able to put it down either. It will leave you thinking for days after you finish reading it. The reviews I have read of this book elsewhere are some of the most thought-provoking. Go get a copy and add your thoughts to all the conversations going on about this novel around on the book blogs.
87% – For all lovers of YA fiction, heavy hitters, clever premises, etc.
Check out the awesome Thirteen Reasons Why website.
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Fizzy Thoughts – This review is so clever! I’m so jealous I didn’t think of it first!
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