Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I say:“Compelling, intense and important. Heartbreaking, haunting and hopeful.”

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

This book is about suicide. How one character reaches the point that she kills herself and how both her death and the message she leaves impact and haunt another character. Jay Asher has written a compelling, intense and important work.

This is a dark novel about a dark subject. Do not take the subject or the book lightly. I recommend this read before my review, for many reasons, and ask whether you read the review or not – Please read the book. Please think about the topic.

Clay Jensen is a good kid. He receives a package of 7 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker.  Hannah was a beautiful, fragile girl and Clay had a crush on her. Hannah killed herself, committed suicide two weeks before.

Hannah’s voices tells Clay, “I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

On each side of the tape Hannah narrates to the listener her thirteen reasons why she killed herself.  If the person is sent the tapes and his listening to them, they are one of the reasons. This is not a suicide note but an explanation.

Clay is horrified and distraught that he is a reason for her death. He listens to each tape as he walks throughout day and night following Hannah’s own path as she recorded them, a voyeuristic tour of events that created the snowball leading to her suicide.

Clay experiences fear, frustration and guilt as he becomes obsessed wondering what he did, how Hannah came to this point and how could her death have been prevented.

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.”

The first reason in the start of Hannah’s downward spiral is the story of how she meets a boy named Justin and her first kiss. New in town her innocent interlude with Justin starts rumors.

Intentional and unintentional acts of others impact Hannah as her ability to cope is fractured and broken. Some of Hannah’s reasons are due to acts of violence, others the impact of having not acted.

The suspense builds even though the reader already knows the ending. The experience of all the missed opportunities and thirteen of the reasons a delicate girl with a tenuous grasp on life both emotionally and mentally.

Everything. . . affects everything.

Told in a unique dual narration that Asher skillfully weaves together both Hannah’s thoughts and actions fueling the escalation of despair, depression and hopelessness along with Clay’s anguish and misery as he listens.

This book is a young adult book and a big part of the message is intended for the young reader. I hope the message is conveyed and understood, as I believe it is, that actions, careless or not impact others.

As an adult I enjoyed, though the term seems strange given the subject) this novel. I thought the book was well written and I highly recommend reading if for no other reason that everyone needs a reminder to be kind and careful. I read the book with obsession, the suspense and grief so gripping I was compelled to read.

It occurs to me that the author at some points fails to show Hannah’s emotional despair and loss of hope. But then when she is recording her tapes she has in fact already made her decision. The last tape is her final grasp for help and hope.

Before I wrote my review, I did research and read other reviews. This book made me cry and devastated me. I know how as survivor of a loved one’s act of suicide.  The issue is important and not to be mistreated.

I do not think the author mistreated the subject in his book. Some negative reviews are justified in the evaluation of the writing. But other negative reviews are written by people that not only did not grasp what the book said and intended, they also failed to understand that suicide is a result of how the person sees their life. That suicide is not just a result of an act of violence or PTSD. Suicide is an emotional and mental crisis.

Suicide is an emotional and mental crisis.

Symptoms of suicide are even mentioned in the book and while not thorough as this is not a text-book, they are accurate. One symptom is asking about, talking about, and even mentioning suicide.  Which Hannah does early in the book. Also, change in character or personality and acting is a risky or destructive manner, again Hannah clearly exhibits these signs.

One reviewer, “It was hard to sympathize with her because it seemed like she created these situations for herself. She willingly made stupid decisions… purposely did them anyway against her better judgment.” This review/reader obviously missed the point of the risky and destructive behavior.

I read a review by a teacher that said yes these type of petty cruel things happen but as some other reviews said (paraphrasing) they do not think these are good enough reasons.  The point is that people are affected differently and their reasons are theirs alone. And we don’t know why or how someone is impacted.

Quotes from the book: “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”

“But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”


Suicide is not isolated to young people, though they are the more vulnerable. To learn more and help prevent suicide:
http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
http://www.afsp.org/

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Filed under Books, Literary Criticism, Literature, Recommended, Reviews

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