Friday, January 8, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Thirteen Reasons Why'

The Book: Thirteen Reasons Why

The Author: Jay Asher

How I Found It: A friend mentioned it a few years ago and after seeing all the acclaim it got, I kept it on my mental list and bought it yesterday.

The Review: This is a book to be read in one sitting, like I did-- just a warning. I started reading at maybe eight, eight-thirty and didn't close the book until one o'clock in the morning. It's difficult to put it down without losing track of the story, I'd think.

Hannah Baker killed herself, Clay Jensen knows that. She swallowed pills two weeks before and now her desk at school is empty. She was Clay's crush and he misses her, and he is as shocked as anyone to find a series of audiotapes in a shoebox by his door.

When he begins to play them, he is greeted by the voice of Hannah Baker, explaining that if you have gotten these tapes passed on to you, then you are one of the reasons she killed herself. The tapes will explain everything. There are two conditions: you listen and you pass them on, or risk having the tapes revealed very publicly, exposing your secrets to the world.

As Clay begins to listen, he slowly begins to realize the effect one person's action can have on the lives of other people. Why is Hannah's first boyfriend reason number one? How does her being named "Best Ass in the Freshman Class" a few years before matter? How have the rumors started about Hannah affected Hannah herself?

And why is Clay one of the reasons she killed herself?

Like I said before, the book is made to be read in one sitting, simply because you keep reading in order to find out who the next person is and what part he or she plays in the story. The impact of the book slowly builds until, at the point where Clay's part of the story is revealed, you'll probably feel as helpless and desperate as Clay does. I cried through most of his chapter. And by the end, when the last sliver of hope for Hannah takes place on tape, with Clay and the reader both knowing it's hopeless, it's really heartbreaking.

I can see why it earned so much acclaim from the critics-- it deals with a lot of issues YAs may face, and it handles them fairly well, I'd think. It also has an interesting scene I think merits discussion-- Hannah discusses a communications class she took much like a sociology class I took in high school, where topical issues are discussed. Hannah anonymously submits a note asking to talk about suicide. While the class has discussed other topics submitted anonymously before without naming names, the class refuses to discuss suicide without wanting to know who wrote the note, leaving Hannah alienated and with no way to vent her feelings.

This made me wonder why this is. Why is it that no one does discuss suicide unless it's happened in the community? Why do we feel as if we need an opening to discuss an issue that happens to teenagers? Why is it not safe for someone to anonymously ask for help and receive some kind of comfort or somewhere to talk about their feelings? And why isn't more done to help the people who need it?

While the book wasn't as life-changing as I heard it was, it was still a very good book-- partly because I like stories about the snowball effect and how people connect with one another; the book reminded me of Testimony in that way. Asher did a good job creating an original story, and creating Hannah and Clay. Clay was defined just enough to give us a sense of his character, but with enough open ends to let the reader be Clay and understand his experiences by remembering our own.

And it is important for the reader to take Clay's experiences to heart-- to learn how to reach out to and maybe help the Hannah Bakers of the world. Luckily, I've never had an experience involving a friend and suicide, but after this book, I can hopefully pay a little more attention to the warning signs.

Recommended to almost anyone with an interest in the subject matter or the hype around the book.

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