Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
|Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: A haunting story about why people are driven to do what they do, this is an astonishing debut novel that truly warrants the praise in which it's being drenched.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: August 2009|
|External links: Author's website|
Hannah Baker is dead, another teenage suicide statistic. There was no note, and people are still asking themselves why. At the time, there were no warning signs, or none people picked up on. Hindsight, however, is always 20:20, and when forced to remember the past, Hannah's torment becomes painfully clear.
Hardworking Clay was a fellow student at the school, and Hannah's colleague at the cinema. He also had a bit of a thing for her, and was saddened by her death. But he didn't have anything personally to do with it...did he? One day he comes home from school to find a mysterious parcel from an anonymous sender awaiting him. Inside he finds cassette tapes, recorded by Hannah before she took her life. On these, she explains why she did it – thirteen reasons why, in fact, each relating to a different person from school. And since Clay has received the parcel, he must be one of those people. He has no clue what part he played in her demise, and is not sure he wants to know, but will he dare ignore his orders from beyond the grave, and discard the tapes without listening?
The format of the book pretty much answers this question. It flits between two voices, narrated by Clay now, and by Hannah then. She provides long monologues, he butts in with his opinions on what she's saying. It's an extremely original idea, and it works beautifully in the book. Sometimes Hannah gets to ramble on, uninterrupted, for a long time, other times Clay is right in there, butting in after every sentence to correct or confirm her thoughts. The switch between voices, shown in the book through a change from standard to italic text, is easy and clear enough, but nonetheless can get a bit confusing if you're tired (up late finishing the book, for example).
Forget the best years of your life: high school, these days, can be a hideous place and I don't think any teen reading this book will struggle to identify with what Hannah has gone through. With time, scars fade and wounds heal, so I can imagine older readers might be slower to latch on to the throwaway comments that are oh, so important, or to appreciate how incidents small in the grand scheme of things can be huge when you're a teenager still trying to find your way in the world. At still less than ten years out of high school, I'm probably about the limit in terms of those who can pick this up and mentally be right back at that place, living it all again. I still think older readers will enjoy this, but it's vital you realise the importance of repeated, relatively small events in someone's life, contributing to the snowball effect that can have catastrophic consequences. Parents of teens might find this shocking, not so much in terms of what happens, but in terms of what is tolerated without complaint, even from the smarter members of the group who should know better, who should know what's acceptable and what isn't. The sadder thing is that Hannah, especially, repeatedly acknowledges things that aren't right, articulates to herself that she should do something about them, but then clams right up.
It seems wrong to say I enjoyed this book, almost as if I'm saying I'm glad Hannah died, but it was an extraordinary, haunting read I sped through in a single afternoon, unable as I was to put it down. The book is not as depressing as you might expect. At times it is funny (Hannah had a perhaps somewhat black sense of humour), at times touching. The message that came through strongest for me was not an anti-suicide one (though this is not something they condone). Instead, it was about optimism, the power of one person to make a difference, and encouragement to be a better person. It takes heartbreak and turns it into hope. I think it would be premature to suggest this book could prevent teens taking their lives, or foster an environment where no one would want to do such a thing anyway because everyone is generally nicer to each other, but as a start, stocking it in every school library across the country could do no harm.
Many thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher at Amazon.com.
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