Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Posted 5 July, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 13 Comments

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Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Published: 2007 Pages: 320
Audio: 6.5 hours
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 (for audio version)

So, my new thing is downloading audiobooks from the library and listening to them during my hour-each-way work commute and while I clean the house.  Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Since I can’t seem to find the time to pick up a physical book (please don’t get me started on making v. finding time), this is the perfect solution to my general lack of reading lately.

Although I’ve been listening to a wide array of books the past couple of months, I’ve noticed that Young Adult Fiction seems to be the easiest to listen to.  So far it’s been more compelling and engaging than the other books and with my short attention span engaging is what I need.  I could write a full post on audiobook experiences but seems that with Audiobook Week (which I sadly missed) and a great Sunday Salon discussion I had last year on audiobooks, I might save my revisitation for a rainy day.

Ahem…Trish, what about the book?  Oh ya…did I mention my short attention span?

The Short of It
Thirteen Reasons Why begins when Clay Jenkins, a fairly ordinary highschooler, finds a brown package addressed to him on his front porch.  Inside he finds seven tapes (the sides numbered one through thirteen) and instructions for listening and passing on the tapes.  What he finds when he begins listening to the tapes is something he never could have imagined–Hannah Baker, his classmate who recently committed suicide, is narrating the thirteen reasons why she is going to kill herself and the recipients of the package are those who are a part of those thirteen reasons.  Words I’d use to describe this book: harrowing, haunting, poignant, compelling, honest, thought-provoking, and incredibly addicting.

The Long of It (possibly spoilers–but mostly my thoughts on teenage suicide)
I was incredibly hesitant to read this book due to the subject matter of teenage suicide and even while reading the book I was angered by Hannah and her reasons why she killed herself.  Basically I didn’t think that Hannah’s reasons were good enough, but then again, IS there a good reason for ending your life?  No.  No matter how shitty life is, I don’t believe that it is shitty enough to end it forever.  And I apologize for the bad language but not really. 

Being a teenager is tough.  You are forced to make adult decisions when you often don’t have the maturity to truly understand the conflicts, the right decision to make, and the consequences of that decision.  Hannah was subject to rumors about her sexuality, specifically her rumored promiscuity, she is backstabbed by her so-called friends, she is made into a joke, and people take advantage of her emotionally and sexually.  Aren’t these things unfortunately common among teenagers?  Or maybe Hannah and I are the only ones.  I doubt it, though.  I think that it’s easy for teenagers to be egocentric: there worlds are small and experiences are limited.  It’s unfortunate that when we are that young that we don’t have the foresight to realize that those years are just a small portion of life and life will move on and it will get better.

It was difficult for me not to take this book personally.  I’ve dealt with my own teenaged depression.  I’ve dealt with feelings and thoughts of suicide.  I’ve had friends attempt suicide.  There are some days that felt so incredibly hopeless that I couldn’t imagine continuing on for the rest of my life.  I’m not trying to belittle what Hannah went through in the book and I realize that no two experiences are the same.  I’m not trying to say that what she went through wasn’t real–those feelings she had are very real and valid .  Throw in hormones and sometimes chemical inbalances (among other more serious things) and it’s a formula for disaster.  Or depression.  Or angst.  I feel like I’m on a rampage here, but in many ways I felt like this book made suicide out to be the easy solution. 

What is truly tragic about this book is that Hannah did not get the help she so needed.  She did try to reach out a few times but her attempts were feeble.  At one point she chops off all her hair and a few days later during a classroom discussion it is noted that signs of impending suicide is a drastic change in appearance and Hannah recognizes that in herself and wonders why no one else sees it, too.  She approaches her teacher about suicide and he doesn’t give her the answer that she is looking for, but as a teenager you have such a limited scope of experience that it is difficult to see past your own reasoning.  I wish that things had happened differently for Hannah and honestly I kept waiting for the moment when she resurfaced and said “just kidding…I didn’t kill myself, but see how your actions affected me?”  Another qualm is how easy it was for Hannah to blame others but not really take a look at her own actions and how she could have done things differently (this goes back to egocentric nature of teenagers and this post is getting long enough without me discussing every facet of my feelings towards being a teenager).

Did I see any hope in the book?  Yes, I did, especially with Clay.  I’m not sure how the others on the tapes reacted to their having a hand in Hannah’s suicide, but Clay was able to see that actions do take its toll on other people.  The people on Hannah’s tapes all did something to hurt Hannah, and unfortunately they did not realize that their actions were causing Hannah pain.  This happens to all of us, even as adults, and it is important to be aware of the potential consequences.  I’ve harped on a lot of negative issues in this review and generally these thoughts are global thoughts that were simply surfaced through reading the book.  But isn’t that part of what makes a book good–one that will make you think about issues from all different angles?

One hope that I have is that teenagers will read this book and realize they aren’t alone in their feelings.  And maybe they’ll handle how they feel better than Hannah did.  How difficult is it when you’re so alone and no one understands what you’re going through and how you’re feeling?  I still go through this at times as an adult but I’m equipped to deal with it better.  I hear people talk about how much they loved their teenaged years, but not in a million would I go back to that insecurity and time of uncertainty!
A note on the audio version of this book.  It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.  Clay is the main narrator but Hannah speaks for herself as Clay is listening to the tapes.  Often their narrative is layered and this was effectively portrayed through the audio version.  I’m not sure this book could have the same impact through written word and I can’t imagine experiencing it any other way.  Even if you’ve already read the book, I’d still recommend listening to it.  I made every excuse I could think of in order to listen to this as often as possible.  But then came the feelings of not wanting it to end.  Seriously, so good.

One of the pitfalls for me and audio is that I can’t dogear pages with passages I like.  But I did have to stop and jot down this part:

Hannah:  Jessica, my dear, I’d really love to know if you dragged yourself to my funeral. And if you did, did you notice your scar? And what about you, the rest of you? Did you notice the scars you left behind? No, probably not.
Clay: That wasn’t possible.

Hannah: Because most of them can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Clay: Because there was no funeral, Hannah.

How many scars have we left behind?  How many of us have scars that are invisible to others?  This book is a powerful one and though teenage suicide makes me angry and sad and hurt, tragically it still happens and it shouldn’t be ignored.

I found this trailer for the book on Trish’s Hey Lady Whatcha Reading blog and loved it. 

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear what you thought!

I am an Amazon Associate and if you purchase Thirteen Reasons Why or any other Amazon product through this review I receive a tiny portion of the purchase price.

13 Responses to “Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher”

  1. I loved reading your thoughts, both times Trish. There’s so much speculation that can be done about this book and the causes of suicide. You mention feeling as a teen like you can’t imagine possibly living like this for forever, and for someone who had chemically-induced depression, it was less like that and more like, “If this is what life is really like, then I don’t *want* to keep living it. It’s not worth it.” Then the suicide becomes more of saving yourself from doom, rather than trying to escape from misery. It’s a proactive measure instead of a passive one.

    One of the things we studied in my college psych classes (I was a psych major for 2 years before I decided to change) was that suicide rarely happens at the lowest point of depression. That’s why it takes people by surprise so much, why they often look at people who have killed themselves and say “why? They were doing somuch better?” Because suicide often happens after there’s been a large improvement in someone’s depression, and then the barest symptom of going down again. The person, no longer bogged down by the inactive fatigue of depression, recognized that they are about to go down again. While they are still awake and alive enough to take action, they kill themselves to avoid having to go back to where they’ve been.

    That’s sort of what Hannah’s journey felt like for me.

    btw, I’m not sure how hormone-induced chemical depression is different from a heriditary disease. I’ve never had the first, so I can’t comment on how bad it gets. I’ve only had the second, where with bipolar disorder there was no way to see straight. It sucked.

  2. I’ve heard the audio version of this book is fantastic. I did enjoy the book, but it didn’t hit home for me like it did for you. I do wish the author had listed the warning signs of suicide somewhere in the book.

  3. I picked this book up a couple of months ago and I had no idea what it was about, now I am not sure if I want to read it. Books like this really do upset me.

  4. Trish, incredibly moving review! I’m just listening to this now although I’m not too far in. I really like the narration so far and I agree, it’s definitely addicting. I want to know what’s on the rest of those tapes and what led Hannah to commit suicide.

    I too have had a lot of problems with depression and such. It’s difficult at any age I think but it’s got to be hard on a kid when they think they have no way out. I’ve felt that way. I don’t think suicide is the answer either no matter how things are but at the same time I can understand why some feel that it is the only answer they have.

    Life isn’t easy, that’s for sure. I think there needs to be more help out there for teenagers and adults as well. I don’t know what it’s like in the States but here it’s not so easy to get the help one might need.

    I think too often that the people around people suffering depression want to ignore it. They think if they ignore the bad stuff it’ll go away, but it doesn’t. What people need is someone to understand and someone to talk to but most don’t get that.

    Ok, I’ve gone on long enough but I’m really anxious to get back to listening to this. I’ve been listening mostly at night. I might have to make some time during the day to finish it up.

  5. I loved reading your thoughts, Trish. This book isn’t an easy read, but I think it helps to create awareness and hopefully it’ll send the message across to teenagers that suicide isn’t the way to solve matters.

  6. Don’t audiobooks make housework so much less horrible? I haven’t read this book yet, but when I do, I’ll take your suggestion and get it on audio.

  7. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this one. I think I’d like for my 15yo daughter to read it along with me.

  8. Wow, what a subject and what a way to present it. I think I might look into getting this because even though it sounds like a hard read, it sounds like a book worth reading. I know a few teens who could do with a dose of that kind too. Thanks for the review!

    PS, Aren’t audio books the biz! :0)

  9. This is such a good book and I totally agree with you. I hope it gets a wide audience with teens. I think it has a powerful message and would be great if more teens, parents and educators could talk about this openly.

  10. Your review is fantastic. I’m going to become a follower here as I love to read (when I should be doing ….other things)
    and love the idea of going to the young adult section. So many books, so little time.

  11. I have been wanting to read this book for some time. I am sure there are a lot of things that I can relate to as well, as I had a horrible teenage life!! I really loved this review and your insights are great. Thanks for the suggestion on the audio version. I think that is how I am going to “read” it.

  12. It was a tough read for me as well coz my best friend committed suicide. It was hard not to start thinking about her and possible causes for her suicide while reading this book. I loved the book. Thought it was agreat book for young adults. makes you realize that it doesn’t take much to affect a person. and there doesnt have to be one big reason for a suicide.. it could be the result of a lot of small, seemingly insignificant, incidents..

  13. I thought this book left me with a lot to think about. Mostly in regards to what my actions are doing to other people? Is something that I think is inconsequential meaning a lot to someone else? Was my little sarcastic remark seriously hurtful to someone else? Things that don’t affect me may be meaning a lot to someone else. It’s cause for thought and, hopefully, enough to make me slow down a little bit in my everyday actions to think about other people.