Author: Jay Asher
First Published: October 18, 2007
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
You can't stop the future.
You can't rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
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. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah's pain, and as he follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
This is a difficult story to unpack and process. The book tackles suicide and a number of other incredibly heavy themes that are not easy to approach and talk about even though they are topics that do need to be talked about, and badly. The story is paced like a suspense novel and it made the book incredibly readable, but I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing.
On one end it’s good, it allows Hannah to talk about the different life events that impacted her and sent her spiraling into depression while simultaneously showing the effect that her story has on someone that cared about her. This angle was important to me because it showcases how little we might know about another person’s suffering as well as show how deeply suicide impacts the people close to the victim. While it may be too late to help someone that is gone, the people left behind need help also.
On the other hand, the suspense format was bothersome because it sort of made readers rubberneckers by proxy. The format makes readers keep turning the page to find out who the culprits were and what they did to this girl to make her want to kill herself out of some form of morbid curiosity. While not everyone will see it this way there are many readers that do, and it’s understandable that many would find this book a little heavy-handed on a subject that needs to be approached with delicacy.
“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.”
I don’t know what the right way would have been for this novel, because if it was Hannah’s story alone it could only end one way and that is with tragedy, and I’m not sure that’s the best book for raising awareness either. I do have to criticize the book though on the many coincidental events in the novel that seem too neat to be real. I get that the book was trying to make a point about how seemingly unrelated events can cause a chain reaction for a person suffering, which is true, but I felt that it could have been achieved without the unbelievable coincidences.
Also an unpopular opinion, but I sort of liked that Hannah is a frustrating character. If you were to boil it down to just actions alone, Hannah is incredibly petty, she blames people for her death and makes tapes to make them suffer like they made her suffer in a final act of revenge. I can understand many people hating her for this, I did too, but this also serves to illustrate how everyone that is depressed and suicidal isn’t picture-perfect.
When we think of victims of bullying, depression, and suicide we tend to have a very one-dimensional view of what it means to be a victim, but people are more complicated than that. Many lash out and push the people that care about them away, start acting in a way others might deem selfish in an attempt at self-preservation and that is perfectly okay. Hannah’s compulsion for utter self-destruction at the end of the novel is infuriating, and it should be because it’s so very wrong, but also because it is a very natural and dangerous human reaction.
“A lot of you cared, just not enough.”
If anything a reader’s frustration with Hannah, Clay, and other characters for their inaction during times when it could mean the difference between someone getting hurt or potentially dying I feel is a good thing because it challenges us to do better. I hope that frustration could be the driving force that pushes a person to seek help, call the proper authorities, be that pillar of strength for someone else, anything.
It’s hard for me to recommend this book because it definitely isn’t for everyone and different folks will take away different things from it. Overall though, I think that the book does what it sought to do in the first place, which is to raise awareness and start a conversation. This book could help teens, parents, and educators in understanding the signs to watch out for and how to help a person that might be suffering. With proper guidance, discussion, and resources, this book could be a powerful teaching tool to educate students about the effects that bullying and sexual harassment can have on a person.
Warnings: suicide, bullying, rape, sexual assault