Rating: 3 stars
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.
I remember being introduced to this book by an old friend of mine when I was in high school. At the time, I remember reading it, becoming so engrossed with Hannah’s character. She was a mysterious girl because when reading, you didn’t really know too much about her. She told you about the things that happened to her during her freshman year of high school and that she wasn’t the type of girl the rumors portrayed her to be. But I also felt a connection to her, having been in high school at the time and understanding the struggles she was going through.
I felt that I could relate to her. Even though I never had rumors like that about me flying around school, I was bullied during my early years of education. So I completely understood where she was coming from and could see how the events that transpired turned her whole world upside down. Even though I’m no longer in high school, reading Thirteen Reasons Why a second time around didn’t change that perception for me.
Hannah Baker is a very sympathetic character. She attends a new high school, trying the best she can to fit in only to find her peers never taking the time to get to know her as a person. They are so busy believing the rumors about her to realize how alone she was and to see that their actions unintentionally lead to her death.
Another reason this story pulls at my heart is because it’s a very sensitive topic. Suicide isn’t something a lot of people feel comfortable talking about, due to people not understanding how the smallest things can have a big impact on a person’s life. Like mental illness, people don’t know how to talk about suicide and don’t understand it as well as people who’ve felt that pain before. Despite how hard suicide as a topic is to discuss about, these discussions need to be had and I appreciate Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why, for writing about it. It makes me hopeful that one day, suicide won’t be such a big stigma. This book also brought up a lot of other key issues, such as rape and drunk driving, which aren’t heavily talked about either and are just as important to discuss.
I also enjoyed this book because of the way the story is told. The novel is from the perspective of Clay Jensen, who receives cassette tapes one day after school with Hannah’s voice on them explaining why she killed herself, saying the responsibility lies with those who receive the tapes. The people involved also receive a map of their town, marked with stars of locations where the events Hannah mentions take place. I enjoyed reading this book through Clay’s thoughts and actions and Hannah’s voice. It made it seem more in depth and personal. I also liked that Asher used cassette tapes for Hannah’s death note. As a 90s child, I grew up using cassette tapes and a Walkman whenever I wanted to listen to something on the go. It made the story a little nostalgic with those elements, considering how far technology has advanced in today’s day and age.
However, I do have a couple criticisms for Thirteen Reasons Why. While I enjoyed the way this story was told, I felt like Asher had Hannah more telling the story than Clay. Yes, he’s the one who had the tapes and his thoughts about what transpired where pretty clear, but I felt like there was more telling in the story than showing. I also didn’t really see a whole lot of character development in any of the characters in this story. I think part of that is because of hearing from Hannah her thoughts about the people who affected her life made it hard for us to really get a good understanding of the other characters. We knew Hannah didn’t really like them, but I wish we could’ve learned more about them and why they were such terrible people.
I also just didn’t really get how Clay is supposedly a nice guy. He’s included in the tapes and the story is told from his perspective, but you don’t really get to know him as a person outside of him listening to those tapes. Throughout the book, he only interacts with a couple people and even those few interactions didn’t give us a real glimpse of his character. Yes, he did some nice things, helped people out, but that isn’t enough for me to truly believe someone is a nice person. I also didn’t see how this whole thing really changed his life either. I get he had a better understanding of what Hannah was going through after the tapes, but he didn’t seem all that different to me than before. But I did sympathize with him because it was evident in the story how much he cared about Hannah and wanted to help her in any way he could.
I felt like I knew more about where Hannah and the rest of her classmates lived than the characters in this story. Part of that was because of Clay going to some of the locations Hannah mentioned in the tapes and Asher describing those places in perfect detail. While I don’t mind knowing more about the world characters live in, it’s a little frustrating with this story because I wanted to know the characters better other than knowing all the terrible things they did to Hannah.
While I sympathize with Hannah, I sometimes find her character to be very weak. I understand how depression works on a person’s mind, making them feel completely helpless, but I just didn’t always understand some of her actions. For example, the incident with the sign I felt like she could’ve very easily done something about. I know she had called the police, but I felt like she should’ve told them who knocked the stop sign down. I felt this way with some of the other incidents that happened in the book too because they were things she could’ve very easily done something about. Especially all of the things that happened towards the end where she’s still struggling to make up her mind about whether to take her own life. Despite these issues with her character, I understand that she was probably already too far gone at these moments in the story to really do anything about these situations. I feel like that is probably why she didn’t stop certain things from happening and why I feel myself questioning some of her actions.
While I have all of these criticisms for Thirteen Reasons Why, I still enjoyed reading it again. It left me sad knowing the story was over and remembering Hannah being dead, but I still found it as good of a read as the last time I read it. I hope others read it with an open mind and find themselves understanding suicide being a much more complicated issue than it seems. Because even though the reasons Hannah gave seem very small and insignificant, together they created a snowball effect that resulted in her not able to get any help until it was too late.