Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

This first novel by Jay Asher deals with the subject of teen suicide. As the novel opens, Clay Jensen, a young high school student arrives home to find on his porch a box containing several cassette tapes. As he plays the first tape, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker, a classmate on whom he'd had a crush prior to her suicide two weeks earlier. Shocked and confused at hearing her voice, he listens as she says that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself, and if he's received the package, he's one of them. He's instructed to listen to her tale and once complete, forward the tapes to the person who's next after him in her tale. On a prior occassion, Clay had received a map in his school locker which Hannah references as being marked with the exact locations where many of the transgressions against her had taken place. As he listens and treks through town to each location, he learns some dark truths about Hannah, his classmates, and about himself.

I read this book based on an interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly, but was unfortunately disappointed. First of all, the main character, Hannah, isn't very sympathetic. As she begins her narration on the tapes, she comes across as whiny and spiteful, expressing a need to hurt from beyond the grave, despite the fact that throughout her narration she indicates she's forgiven the guilty culprits.

"When you're done listening to all thirteen sides--because there are thirteen sides to every story--rewind the tapes, put them back in the box, and pass them on to whoever follows your little tale. And you, lucky number thirteen, you can take the tapes straight to hell. Depending on your religion, maybe I'll see you there."

Secondly, while I can see how a young, sensitive teen would be hurt by the incidents or reasons Hannah cites in her story, none of them individually or even as a whole are earth shattering or horrible enough to logically serve as the impetus for her suicide. Being used for rides, and being listed as hottest ass in the freshman class don't quite pack the emotional punch I expected. Throughout the tape Hannah complains of the wrongs done to her, but twice when she has the chance to make a difference, and in one case stop something truly heinous and criminal from happening to someone else, she stands by and does nothing.

Even with all of the above comments, I'd recommend that people--especially parents, teachers, and teens--read it, because any book that spreads the message of suicide prevention deserves a read. The message and not necessarily the story is what makes "Thirteen Reasons Why" a compelling read.