enter night book coverYoung Adult

Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher (2007)


·      this review contains no spoilers
·      debut Novel
·      #1 New York Times Bestseller
·      Awards:
1.     Georgia Peach Book Award Nominee (2009)
2.    Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis Nominee for Preis der Jugendjury (2010)
3.    Missouri Gateway Readers Award (2010)
4.    South Carolina Book Award for Young Adult Book Award (2010)
5.    California Book Award Silver Medal, Abraham Lincoln Award (2013)

The story begins with the character, Clay Jensen, he returns home from school one afternoon to find a package of cassette tapes. On these tapes are the final recordings of Hannah Baker, a young girl who committed suicide two weeks earlier. These tapes contain the “reasons” why she did it. It is clear that Clay’s possession of the tapes means he is on them and one of those reasons. What makes the situation worse for Clay and more interesting is that Hannah was Clay’s high school crush. The title itself, Thirteen Reasons Why, is derived from the thirteen people on her list that must listen then pass the tapes along. If anyone failed to pass on the tapes, Hannah threatened with her first words that the tapes would go public revealing shameful and even criminal behavior.

What compels the reader forward is the narrator listening to the tapes, his memories of this girl and how the loss has affected him. I wanted to discover, like Jensen, why was he on the tapes. I was really eager to know this. The novel follows Hannah’s words as Jensen is listening to them. His reactions and personal memories create a richer more deeply felt emotional connection to Hannah. He also goes on a physical journey to the places Hannah discusses which allows Asher to draw the reader ever forward in the quest to find out what it was that drove Hannah to her ultimate fate.

I’m not entirely sure what state of mind I found myself in when I decided to read this book with such a dark and depressing subject matter. I found it on a whim while perusing a list of books that you supposedly “can’t put down.” Well… I could not put it down. I read it in nearly one sitting -- about two and a half hours. But then I had to go to work so I finished it there twenty minutes later.

I enjoyed the writing plus I found it easy to read (and the mystery aspect was great.) I found Hannah and Jensen likeable and honestly I did hope that the book would have some kind of cheesy ending where she hadn’t died after all. Okay, one spoiler, that doesn’t happen.
On a more negative aspect, I’m not sure this is a book for teenagers who have issues with major depression or thoughts of suicide, but for others it might point out that actions do have consequences, especially in a world as small as high school. Apparently many people found the novel moving enough where they proclaimed it changed or even saved their lives.

         Visit www.thirteenreasonswhy.com for more info.


 WORKSHOP

In this workshop review, I will use one and two star reviews found on Goodreads and Amazon. I won’t quote nor name the reviewers but just try to get at the major points of what they wrote. In the future I might like to be able to make a true workshop atmosphere with differing opinions, but I’m not interested in a message board internet argument or a long comment that belongs in a comments section or a Facebook post. There are already plenty of those.
Anyway, it’s safe to assume if you’re still reading there must be some interest in what I’m thinking!

Whether someone enjoys a book or not is completely subjective of course, but I found some criticisms of the book are almost dangerous in that their feelings are part of the problem the book might be trying to bring up. One reviewer felt that the novel is exploitive or glamorizes teen suicide. I’m not entirely sure of that. I’m also not sure if this book is suitable for those suffering from Major Depressive Disorder who might be considering suicide, which happened to be the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24 in 2009. (Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-a-major-preventable-mental-health-problem-fact-sheet/index.shtml)

Another reviewer, I had major problems with was by someone who claims to be bipolar and a therapist as well. They called the character a caricature of a suicidal teen whose reasons would not have led her to suicide. These reviews are actually quite prominent on the sites I named. They have their own comments sections as well.

I’d like to stick with the workshop and not dig too deeply into the issue of teen suicide but instead the underlying point of the novel. I feel that there is no good “reason” for what she did. But perhaps I’m too educated, or too wise? If it is never explicitly mentioned in the text that this poor girl was most likely suffering from some kind of mental disorder, is it wrong to assume it? And what are good reasons to kill oneself if not these?

I hate to be the kind of person that uses their experience as almost like a “gotcha” but I’ve known several people who have done that and they didn’t have good reasons.
So perhaps Asher was not effective enough for these people in portraying Hannah’s illness. Though there are places where she explains (the explanations of a teenage girl) how trapped and alone she feels with nowhere safe to go, pushing a few people who do care about her away.

The other major criticism of the novel is a little more difficult. Some had trouble with sympathizing for the Hannah character because what she was doing was very vindictive and selfish and rather narcissistic.

The act itself is extremely selfish, vindictive, and ridiculously narcissistic. But that was the characters way of gaining a control that she felt she had lost. The act itself is in pursuit of this, so I agree with the criticism, but come to different conclusions. In his grief, the character of Clay would probably not focus on how nasty Hannah’s final act is, so I’m not so sure how Asher could have approached this likability issue in any way other than just having the reader understand that, of course she’s being selfish.

I felt the tone was effectively used, happy, jovial, almost giddy in the beginning because she had made her choice and unfortunately it was something that made her happy. As the narrative wound down toward her final act, it became more somber and reflective. I’ll be that person that uses his experience as a shield for my opinion. I unfortunately have seen that very journey with my own eyes. And sadly it ended in the same fashion.

I think the novel was effective, entertaining, and to be envied as a debut novel.

April 2016

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