Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book seventeen: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Teen angst and high-school drama reign supreme in Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.  My opening statement may come across a little flippant for a book about teen suicide.  But I wasn't good at all that drama when I was in high school.  And I find it less interesting now that I'm older and less willing to blame others for everything.

Here's the idea behind Thirteen Reasons Why: Clay Jensen (one of the narrators in the book) receives a box of cassette tapes.  He tracks down a cassette player and discovers that the tapes were created by Hannah Baker (the other narrator in the book). Hannah was a "new girl:" in school who was tormented by her classmates and in response commits suicide.  But before killing herself, she makes a series of cassette tapes that identify people who factored into her suicidal decision.  There are thirteen people identified and the tapes are to be passed along to each person.  If they aren't passed along, Hannah has diabolically arranged for a secret, second set of tapes to be made public.

I did a fair amount of eye-rolling while reading this book.  Hannah would build up the tension and suspense as she neared revealing the next person who ruined life, only to divulge some trivial rumor or the fact that someone hadn't tried hard enough to get her to talk about how she was feeling.  Sure there were a few moments that were serious or emotional.  But for the most part, this is a book about making mountains of molehills.

By the time I finished the book, I didn't really feel sorry for anyone.  I didn't feel sorry for the people identified in the tapes because most of their "crimes" seemed so inconsequential. I didn't feel sorry for Clay (who had a crush on Hannah) because he was the one character who treated Hanna with respect.  And most important, I didn't feel sorry for Hannah, hell I didn't even really like her.  And that's a problem for a book like this.  Because I really wanted to feel like Hannah had been treated in a way that warranted her actions.  And I just didn't.

I know, I know, high-school bullying is a big problem right now and this delivers the message that even small insults can cause immense emotional harm resulting in tragic ends.  That's a good message that needs to be told.  But here's another message that needs to be told: High school sucks. Get over it! Now let's move on to the things that will really make your life meaningful.

P.S.  As with book fourteen, you've just read the commentary of a 40-something realist (some might say cynic).  A whole lotta high-school students (and their parents) would disagree.  So lest I discourage you from reading a book that might save a teen's life, consider reading others' opinions about Thirteen Reasons Why.


  1. I'm so upset I missed book club to discuss this. I couldn't agree with you more. The whole time I couldn't help but keep asking, is this what she killed herself over? The book had a lot of potential to really dive into bullying and how it impacts people but this book definitely fell flat. Jessica

  2. Um, people have mental illnesses. I'll bet a million dollars she had one. A lot of the time the things you pass off as "teenage angst" are actually real problems. And some of the things -were- exaggerated but its a fictional book for gods sake. So the next time you talk so flippantly, as you said yourself, think about what your saying.

  3. Well, if you put yourself in her shoes and really try to understand. You think would i do the same thing she did if that was me? Most of you would say yes...but others would say they never would do anything like that but you dont know because you haven't really experienced her life and the things going on...but some of us do understand..not all of it,though.