Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Description:
Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 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.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

Let me say, first off, that I really enjoyed this book. The writing was sharp and vivid, the Voice was clear, the characters were strong and compelling, the subject is interesting, and the story held me in such a strong grip that I couldn’t put it down.

But I didn’t love it. It kills me to say this, but I didn’t. It wasn’t due to a lack of talent, because, clearly, this author has a lot of it.

There is a discussion on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards about this book, and many people had trouble sympathizing with Hannah, the girl who commits suicide. I, also, had trouble sympathizing with her, and, in the end, didn’t really like her. But I was okay with this, because to sympathize with her could be to think suicide is okay. Even viable. And I will never see it that way. Therefore, Hannah and I will never be able to connect, and that’s fine. If the author did this on purpose, then I am incomplete awe.

There was only one thing in this story that gave me pause. Unfortunately, it was a really big thing: the tapes. I just can’t accept that someone who is planning to commit suicide would go through so much effort to record *everything* that led to her decision. Tapes like these are more likely to be a tool for someone who is trying to sort through what’s happened to her, so she can move on. But it’s set up from the beginning that these tapes are an elaborate suicide note that only a select few should hear.

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t get past that. Suicide is about hopelessness. Would a hopeless, depressed person have enough energy and drive to not only go through the time and effort of creating the tapes, but also reliving everything that led to her decision? I don’t think so. To be fair, I’ve never been one to give up, so I’m only guessing here. But it makes sense to me.

Without the tapes, there is no story. But with the tapes, I couldn’t accept the story. You see my dilemma… Still, this is a great story that deals with important issues, and I do recommend reading it.

And there is one thing I know for sure – whatever Jay Asher writes in the future, I’m going to read it.


Marcia said...

There was only one thing in this story that gave me pause. Unfortunately, it was a really big thing: the tapes. I just can’t accept that someone who is planning to commit suicide would go through so much effort to record *everything* that led to her decision. Tapes like these are more likely to be a tool for someone who is trying to sort through what’s happened to her, so she can move on.

Bingo. I should confess I haven't read the book. But this is exactly why. I don't buy the premise. I may or may not pick it up, but since I believe the premise is too artificial/unbelievable to hang a story on, I'm in no hurry.

Jacqui said...

I felt similarly. I loved the book, especially this idea that the "blame" for her suicide was so shared and interconnected. But the premise did get to me. I wonder if that is connected to the voice issue; someone who goes through all this trouble just to make other people feel bad isn't someone it's easy to like.

Tabitha said...

Marcia - I didn't really know the premise when I picked it up, or I might not have. I'd just heard it was good so I picked it up, not bothering to read the back cover.

Throughout the whole story, I kept thinking that Hannah didn't really kill herself. It didn't make sense to me that she would go through all this trouble, then actually end her life. I kept looking for some twist to show me she was still alive, and just trying to get back at the people she sent the tapes to. When it became clear she actually did kill herself, I got mad. And I really, really hated Hannah for what she did. And I kind of felt cheated.

Jacqui - I loved that aspect as well. It makes me wish that part could stay, but have a more believable premise. Which would likely elicit more sympathy for Hannah, as well.

PJ Hoover said...

I haven't read it, but it's somewhere on the list. it's an interesting thing you bring up though. I wonder if most teens thought about this aspect of the book. As we can see from Stephanie Meyer, kids and adults think very differently on stuff like this.
Nice review!

Tabitha said...

Hmm, that's a good point. I'll bet your right, that there are kids who won't make that connection. Especially ones who would never consider suicide.

But what about the ones who would consider it? They're in a better position to see the flaws, because the subject matter is closer to them.

Which begs the question...would the flaws in this story turn off a potentially suicidal kid enough that he/she won't ask for help? I don't have enough experience with suicide to even attempt an answer, but it sure makes me wonder.

Mary Witzl said...

Tabitha, once again you have said everything for me. This is exactly how I felt.

I got this book for Christmas as I had heard it was very good. Like you, I thought the writing was excellent and the pace was compelling; I just could not buy the premise.

After I finished reading the book, I passed it on to the rest of the family, making no comment on it whatsoever as I did not want to influence my kids' opinions (as if I could...). Both my 13-year-old and 16-year-old claimed that they could not buy the premise -- that Hannah just sounded too rational and on top of things for a girl contemplating suicide. And her family are never mentioned at all other than very tangentially. We only know that they are caught up in running a shoe shop and thus not attentive to Hannah's problems. I found it hard to sympathize with Hannah knowing so little about her and her circumstances.

Part of me thought that if Hannah was so upset about her life now, it was probably better that she skipped out while she still could. And the scene in the hot tub towards the end of the book struck me as far too contrived -- and Hannah's reaction to the boys who were taunting her almost improbably self defeating.

Write2ignite said...

I always enjoy reading your take on things, T. The spoilers help me when deciding what books to buy. I'll probably check this one out at the library at some point, just to see how great Jay's writing is for myself. However, it's nice to know what to expect. Thanks again!

Tabitha said...

Mary - Thanks for sharing how your kids reacted to the story! It's interesting that they picked up on that. I'm not sure I would have at their age. But I was very naive, and generally accepted what I was told regarding things I knew very little about.

I also had much trouble with the hot tub scene. It just didn't ring true as something she'd actually do. Especially since she knew he was capable of.

I think that if the tapes had started out as a tool, showing her trying to sort through everything but failing, then this would have increased believability. We could have tracked her emotions and reasoning throughout the story, experiencing it with her instead of being told about it after the fact, without it being so obvious how everything's going to end. That would have elicited much more sympathy from me.

Donna - Good to see you! And glad you enjoyed the post. It's a great read, so I definitely recommend picking it up somewhere. I got my copy from the library too. I've just discovered how to use the whole network of libraries in my area, and now I have a zillion books to read! Yay!! :)

Unknown said...

I haven't read this book yet, but I plan I'm holding my hand up to the screen to type in a hello! Once I read the book, I'll come back and check all this out :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Now that you have spelled out the tape thing, I have to say that if I think about it, I'd have to agree. I guess tho, that in my case I was able to suspend belief and get past it because it wasn't something that I thought about at the time.

For me, it was definitely not being able to understand Hannah's motives and actions in certain circumstances. The one that really stands out to me was when she actually went to the guidance councellor and then at the slightest hiccup, bails and basically commits to going through with her suicide. It made me feel that really she wanted to do it all along, and she actually wanted the GC to not offer her what she needed to step away from that path.

The voice was incredible, and like you' I'd read another Asher book in a heartbeat!

Marcia said...

I get uncomfortable when everything is sacrificed to "voice." I wonder, if the book had been written before voice was so emphasized, if the flaw in the premise might have been even more glaring?

Tabitha said...

Angela - I agree about the scene with the counselor. She just didn't even try, really. And, neither did the counselor. I think a good counselor would have followed her out the door and kept talking until she'd agreed to come back in. I would have liked to better understand Hannah's motives for ending her life. From my perspective, things may have been hard...but not *that* hard. So, either she's too sensitive, or there was missing info.

Marcia - I feel the same about emphasis on Voice. I've read some recent books where the Voice was really strong and clear, but the rest of the book did nothing for me. Bad writing, boring plot, flat characters, etc. Writing is all about balance, so Voice shouldn't have more strength than the rest of the story. Just my $0.02...which should maybe go into a different post. :)