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Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 288

Release Date: June 1st 2009

Summary (from Goodreads):

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 one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did – and Clay is one of them.

If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list – what he hears will change his life forever.

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why is everywhere at the moment: the new TV show on Netflix has made it spread all over Twitter and into the news as well. So when this popped up on Netgalley I decided to see what the fuss was about.

I’m really conflicted about this one. I’ve been watching the series on Netflix around the same time so some of that is probably going to bleed into this review.

I think my problem with this book – and the show too – is how cool Hannah comes across. I know a lot of people have said it glamourises suicide and I tend to agree. Hannah has made herself immortal by recording her life story and forces others to listen to it after her suicide. I think it makes it sound like an attractive option to impressionable young people, rather than the last desperate act of an unhappy girl.

I also hate the fact that Hannah does this at all. Yes, she does acknowledge that ultimately it was her choice to end her life. But sending out tapes saying everyone on there is a reason she died is pretty cruel, especially to Clay. I understand that people need to be held accountable for their actions and to understand how everything they do can affect someone, but I felt this was a selfish way to get her message across. It’s a bit ‘eye for an eye’ – you ruined my life so now I’m going to ruin yours.

So I had some pretty big problems with the plot and theme of the book. But I also didn’t really like the format. I’m not sure the tapes really worked. I kept wondering how Hannah recorded them: did she write everything down and plan what she was going to say beforehand? Or did she just do everything off the top of her head? Either way, it just didn’t read naturally to me: it as too stylistic and that brought me out of the story.

I also didn’t feel like the present day story was particularly interesting. In fact, I could basically have done without it. It was more distracting than enlightening to have the occasional interruptions from Clay. I don’t feel they added much to the story: if they were needed, I think there should have been more happening than Clay just walking around listening to tapes.

This has all been pretty negative so far but I’ve still given three stars, mostly because it kept me reading. I did want to know what happened to Hannah and what all her reasons were, even if I didn’t agree with what she was doing. The book also made some interesting points on the treatment of women’s bodies: a small, seemingly insignificant (to other people anyway) action sets off a chain of events that turns Hannah’s body into a commodity to be talked about and used by others. There’s an important message there but I think some of it got lost in everything else. I feel the book was kind of style over substance, with the idea of using the tapes coming before everything else.

3

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