Friday, September 11, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box 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. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

Short review:

Punch in the face powerful, sad, poignant and thought provoking. Warning: not for the faint hearted (not for gruesomeness but for punch-in-face-honesty-factor)

Longer review:


I expected something from this very well received and talked about novel by Jay Asher but I did not expect this. It's taken me since the bank holiday weekend to attempt to write this review because everything I've thought of saying will sound trite and done before.

I felt ill after reading it. Ill in my soul because this is what the story does to you. It makes you examine your own actions directed at other people. It makes you wonder if you've even been part of someone's Thirteen Reasons Why they did anything other in their lives.

I loved and hated the novel in equal measure - I felt deeply for Clay as he went through the tapes listening to Hannah's voice telling him the reasons behind her suicide. Hannah is a tough guide, she doesn't pull punches. She tells it like she saw it, brutally honest and direct.

No one escapes her examination and she cuts no one slack, not even Clay. He follows the map she had dropped into his locker days before her death. Each item on the map is linked to an incident on the tapes. Hannah's dialogue, which we would have read as internal dialogue had it been written in first person point of view, is mesmerising. It's a car crash, you have to continue reading to make sense of it all - what would drive someone to do the unspeakable.

I found Hannah's voice unrelenting. I didn't like her. I could appreciate where she was coming from and understood motivations et al, but I didn't like hear meanness to Clay. He could have been seen as an innocent bystander who had been dragged into something dirty and unpleasant. I didn't like the emotional impact it had on Clay. I loved the novel. I hated it. I liked Clay but I didn't like Hannah's selfish and self-indulgent payback and the way she went about giving up her secrets and unhappiness as it pertained to each person on the tape. And this is why the novel works - it creates within the reader a reaction: empathy, anger, shock, disbelief.

The self-examination and the attention to detail in Hannah's narrative is insanely minute and works breathtakingly well. I felt emotionally drained after reading this, which is why it's taken me so long to actually write the review. So many conflicting emotions! I could probably write an entire twenty page essay about it, given half a chance.

More than anything, the novel forces you to consider your own actions towards others, even those you hardly know. How does what you say and what you do influence people's actions? It's a bit chaos theory, it's a bit of a Consequences game.

I would highly recommend this very intelligent, draining, beautifully dark and shocking novel exploring one girl's descent into a depression harsh enough to take her own life ontly to those mature teens and adult who would be able to cope with it. Thirteen Reasons Why disturbed me more than Tender Morsels did. I think it's because of its immediacy and the non-dreamlike quality of Hannah's voice and Clay's reaction to her revelations that do it for me.

A highly recommended read but just, you know, be careful. There is no HEA but there is room for redemption and we leave Clay in a place where he can make a difference in someone else's life. I hope he does.

This is the US site for Thirteen Reasons Why and this is Jay Asher's website and blog. Thirteen Reasons Why is published by Puffin in the UK.


Ailsa said...

Ooh, I think this is maybe the third review I've found of this book - it sounds great!
On the other hand, though, I'm not sure if I would actually read it - I don't really like overly miserable books. And I'm a semi-happy-endings-at-least king of person.
So, it sounds like a good book, but it might have to wait until I find it in a library.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

That's a great review Liz! I bought this one recently but haven't read it yet. It sounds like an emotional ride, so I'll have to be in the right mind to read it.

prophecygirl said...

I love this book, it's one of my favourites. It's so unbelievably poignant, you can't help but think about it for days after finishing it.