Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide.
Source: Penguin Stacks
Suicide is a difficult topic probably for everyone, and therefore a bold theme for a young adult romance. That’s exactly what attracted me to this book.
Before killing herself, Hannah Baker records thirteen cassette tapes explaining the reasons that led her to take that decision. Each reason is a person, and each person will receive the tapes, with two instructions: listen to everything, then send the tapes to the next person on the list. They also receive a map, in case they wish to follow Hannah’s story better.
The reader follows this story from the point of view of Clay Jensen (one of the guys who receives the tapes). Clay feels confused and disturbed about the box’s content (who wouldn’t?), and can’t imagine why would he be on Hannah’s list ─ which is one of the reasons he listens to the tapes.
This book is narrated in first person; Clay’s comments, actions and thoughts are alternated with Hannah’s voice from the tapes. Through their points of view, we follow Hannah’s story and all of her disappointments, all the cruel things people did to her from the moment she arrived in town until right before her death. Her sufferings are a snowball: in the beginning, Hannah’s problems were much smaller, but they led to others, and they accumulated. The book’s quite biased, following an old taboo that forbids us to say anything negative about someone who died. I wish it had questioned Hannah’s attitudes a bit more. Yet it is impossible to read it without reflecting on the impact our actions have on other people’s feelings.
You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.
Jay Asher is a great writer ─ his work is pleasant to read and, despite the heavy subject, I read it quickly. The alternate narrators on each paragraph help to keep the reader interested ─ the book has a mysterious atmosphere and never gets tiring. The vocabulary in English is easy, appropriate to level 1 (as sorted by Penguin Stacks). There were few words and phrases I didn’t understand, so I took notes for further research, which didn’t delay my reading and helped improve my vocabulary.
However, even Asher’s talent couldn’t create captivating characters. Of course most of them weren’t supposed to be that ─ after all, their actions led a girl to suicide ─, but even Hannah takes too long to become likeable. Besides, Clay Jensen didn’t convince me. He overreacted about everything Hannah talked about, in an obvious attempt by the writer to take the reader by the hand and say “here, this is how you should react”. In this, Asher underestimates his readers. Clay has thoughts like “I can’t believe people can be that mean on high school”, which sounds too innocent. I was surely not surprised by the teenagers’ cruelty ─ actually, one of the big qualities of the book is precisely how plausible it is. I’m sure the reader has lived or witnessed at least one kind of violence Hannah suffers, but maybe the book will make them reflect for the first time on the gravity of it.
These small caveats make me believe this book will probably have a bigger effect on teenage readers, instead of speaking to all ages, like many YAs do. But that doesn’t take the merit from the work, not at all. It is a well-written and sad book, which, just like life itself, doesn’t attenuate difficult things, nor is too kind.
Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razor Bill
Year of publication: 2007
Book ceded by Penguin Stacks English
Did it hurt? No. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Because the question is, did he have the right to do it? And the answer, I hope, is obvious.
I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.