Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Penguin Group
Reviewed by Melissa

The copy that I received began with a letter: "Beware: Jay Asher's writing has the ability to cause hours of time to disappear -- without warning -- into thin air! Do not begin this book if you have someplace to be in the next few hours. You will undoubtedly miss your next appointment, dinner, or important phone call, because Thirteen Reasons Why will draw you in, and it will not let you go." I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical; I know this book has been getting rave reviews, but it's not often that a book draws me in that much. I have to admit, though, that this book did. I couldn't stop reading it, and I couldn't stop thinking about it on the few occasions when I had to put it down. It's an amazing debut book.

Before Hannah Baker committed suicide, she left behind a message for her classmates. She made a series of tapes -- thirteen stories about and for thirteen people -- about the reasons why she decided to take her own life. Clay Jensen was one of those people. When the shoebox full of tapes arrives on his doorstep one day, two weeks after Hannah's death, he has no idea that his life was about to change. One of the amazing things about this book is that the story is both fairly straightforward yet simultaneously incredibly complex. It's a simple tale of a girl detailing the many ways in which she was hurt emotionally and physically by her peers. It's a simple tale of a boy's reaction -- a boy who happened to have a major crush on her -- to those tapes. Yet, in chronicling the "snowball effect" of little things that lead to Hannah's choice to take her life, Asher weaves a beautiful, intricate web of stories. One of the things that hit me most powerfully while reading this book was that nothing we do is without consequences. Someone, somewhere, is going to react to every little thing we do, either for good or bad. And that was the case in Hannah's life. Little things -- things that teens wouldn't think were any real "big deal" -- contributed to other things which lead to other things, eventually ending up in Hannah's death.

The story is told from a dual narrative -- Hannah's through the tapes, and Clay's as he reacts to what he's hearing -- and it works. It works so well that both Hannah and Clay become real people. And I think it was important that this story be told that way. Without Clay's grounding influence on the story, it would be too easy to be dismissive of Hannah. She's too obsessive. She's taking things WAY too literally. You wouldn't be inclined to trust her account of things. Either that, or you would be totally accepting of her as a victim; the book would read as an angry, depressing tragedy, just another suicide story. (If you can ever have "just" another story about suicide.) But having Clay also as a narrator makes the story more real. His reactions to the events Hannah's narrating made those events more believable to me, as a reader. And I felt that he kept the story authentic. Yes, I saw how all the little things snowballed, but I could also see where Hannah went wrong in herself, and how she gave up too soon, as well as where Clay failed her, and where there was no easy solution either way. It's a very talented author that can achieve all that.

I would quote from the book, because Asher's an eloquent writer in capturing the essence of teenagers. But I'll leave it to you to discover it for yourself because I think everyone should experience Hannah's story. Know that it's a very emotional ride, but a very honest one. My heart ached for Hannah, I cried with Clay (his story was the hardest one for me to read). I was angry at some of the other stories, and found myself hoping that none of my daughters ever meets boys like that. I was deeply saddened at Hannah's death, but the end of the book is hopeful. And if everyone reacts to Hannah's story like Clay does, then maybe the world -- or at least high school -- will be a better place.


Em said...

Definitely a good read. I, too, was sucked in and couldn't put the book down until I finished.

Bookgirl's Nightstand said...

Great review Melissa. I was really impressed by this book. I'll definitely have to keep an eye out for his next book.