Saturday, November 30, 2013

REVIEW: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Genre: Young Adult
Reviewed by: Books4Tomorrow
Source: Purchased
My rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen 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.


REVIEW

I knew from the onset this was going to be a very difficult review to write. Before I share my thoughts on this book, I want to explain first my views on suicide. I have to do that in order for my review to make sense. But first, I have to say that what I find so utterly fantastic about this book is that every single person is going to interpret it differently – depending on their views about suicide.

Here goes.

Have I ever considered taking my own life? That’s a very personal question, but one I feel I should answer honestly because it affects how I felt about this book. And my honest answer is yes, I have. Once in a blue moon I still do. There are many reasons for this, which I’m not going to elaborate on. Nevertheless, there are those down times in my life when suicide fleetingly crosses my mind, and then there was that one time many years ago when I gave it serious consideration. But when things start looking up again for me and I no longer feel like life is continuously shoving crap on a platter at me, I breathe a sigh of relief for not allowing those dark thoughts to cloud my judgment. However, having experienced times in my life when I’ve actually considered ending it all, but then finding enough reasons not to, I can safely say that I don’t judge people who commit suicide because I’ve had enough lows in my life to understand how clearly such a decision can make sense. I firmly believe that taking that final step in ending your life probably takes an enormous amount of courage. Still, there are times I feel it is a cowardly and selfish act and I just couldn’t find it in my heart to do that to the people I care about. In short: I’m not for it, but neither am I against it.

Is considering suicide from a teen’s perspective different than that of an adult’s? I’d say, yes.

If I could’ve read Thirteen Reasons Why while I was a teenager, I might’ve agreed with Hannah thinking she was justified in ending her life. But adult me simply doesn’t agree. Like Clay, I saw so many opportunities where Hannah could’ve reached out for help, especially with the last person on her tapes, had she sat down and listened when he called her back and tried to explain. I also felt all her reasons weren’t good enough, and although she blamed others for her eventual demise, some of it was all her own fault. I did feel sorry for Hannah for what she had to endure, but I know of kids who had survived worse things. Hannah’s boy troubles pale in comparison to some of the things you hear other kids suffer. Of course, teen me doesn’t agree with adult me, and keeps telling me that teenagers are emotional creatures who sometimes blow things out of proportion, or who doesn’t always know how to ask for help. It doesn’t change my opinion though. On the other hand, there has been a time in my life, many moons ago, when I have considered ending my own life for reasons others might consider petty. So who am I to judge her motivations, right? I love how this book is perfect for book clubs because so many discussions and debates can stem from this topic.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book I took my time to finish. I read it slowly, afraid I might miss something important. I honestly thought I was going to bawl my eyes out at some point during the story, or at the end of it. But, for me this was not a tearjerker. Nonetheless, I found it to be a deeply moving read and I feel it’s a book that should be read twice because there’s so much in there you’ll discover the second time around which you might’ve missed on the first read.

***The below section contains a slight spoiler***

The most important lesson I got from this novel (although it is something I already know), is how our actions can unknowingly have a snowball effect on other peoples’ lives. Sometimes it can be something as insignificant as a careless remark, an insult disguised as a joke, or a suggestion that plants the seed of doubt. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life – and which this novel reiterates – is that no matter how much we think we know somebody, we never really do. Case in point: in one of Hannah’s classes, Peer Communication, they decorated paper lunch bags to hang on a wire book rack in class in which fellow students can drop each other notes of encouragement or positive feedback throughout the year. One of the persons on Hannah’s tapes – in a childish act of pettiness – decides to steal all the notes dropped in Hannah’s lunch bag in this class. While Hannah’s going through the lowest points in her life, she becomes dependent on these notes of encouragement, but person x keep stealing them out of her bag before she gets a chance to read them, which in turn leads to her thinking nobody’s leaving her any positive notes.
How was that person to know Hannah’s life literally depended on these notes? That’s my point - and I believe it’s one of the points the author tries to make – that no matter what we think, we never REALLY know someone.

***End of spoiler***

Two of the things that bothered me, is that the author never elaborates on Hannah’s life at home, or her relationship with her family, other than saying the relationship with her parents is a little strained. Was there really no adult she could turn to; one that she trusts in whom she could confide? Wasn’t there an aunt, or a grandmother, or a cousin or anyone else she could’ve talked to? I just would’ve liked to know more about her family setup so as to answer this question. Secondly, with each tape and every revelation, I kept waiting for that ONE incident that turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there wasn’t anything that made me think that if that happened to me, it would also make me consider suicide. If I’m correct, person number twelve is supposed to be that reason that finally pushed Hannah over the edge, but my argument here is that she allowed it to happen. She could’ve turned around and walked away, but she didn’t.

We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and what might drive one person to call it a day, may be something another can move on from. I might not have found Hannah’s struggles reason enough to do something as drastic as what she did, but for someone else, that may be more than enough reason.

My overall feeling at the end of this book was that by the time Hannah got to the last person on her list, she had already made her mind up about what she was planning to do, and I feel that no matter what the last person said, she was going to do it anyway. Suicide threats can be serious and shouldn’t be ignored; and I hate it when people say that person is only looking for attention. Chances are that person isn’t going to come to you and ask for help, so it’s good to know the signs. The author treats this topic with understanding and sensitivity, and I’d recommend this book to teens and adults alike. Apart from suicide, this book also touches on a lot of other hot topics kids have to deal with, and at the very least it gave me a lot to think about. Thirteen Reasons Why is a superb book which I’m glad I read, and one I’ll unquestionably read again sometime soon.



READ more REVIEWS

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher has 18 566 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.

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ABOUT the AUTHOR

Jay Asher was born in Arcadia, California on September 30, 1975. He grew up in a family that encouraged all of his interests, from playing the guitar to his writing. He attended Cuesta College right after graduating from high school. It was here where he wrote his first two children’s books for a class called Children’s Literature Appreciation. At this point in his life, he had decided he wanted to become an elementary school teacher. He then transferred to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where he left his senior year in order to pursue his career as a serious writer. Throughout his life he worked in various establishments, including as a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of his work experiences had an impact on some aspect of his writing.

He has published only one book to date, Thirteen Reasons Why, which was published in October 2007. He is currently working on his second Young Adult novel, and has written several picture books and screenplays. Thirteen Reasons Why has won several awards and has received five stars from Teen Book Review. It also has received high reviews from fellow authors such as Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher, and Gordon Kormon.

AUTHOR LINKS

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