Category Archives: Literature

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:

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One Line Plot Description (Elements of Writing) Killer Titles?

From The Write Life Lessons in The Art of Writing
4 Elements of a Logline – One line plot description by Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Summary of Chapter One – What Is It?A log line is a movie/screen writing term for a one or two line description of the story. Snyder says screenwriters can sell their screen play if they have the following 4 elements.

1) Irony. A good story will have a twist. Identify the conflict. Mention the protagonist
(Hero/Heroine) and the antagonist to involve the reader’s emotions.

2) Target Market. For the author of novels this would be the publisher and genre. Does the description provide an idea of the reader/market? A bookstore is divided by genre to engage the target market. Readers that enjoy romance, young adult section, mystery, sci-fi, etc. head to the labeled section. A blurb on the back, though longer, tells the reader what the story is about.

3) Create a mental picture. Does the description give the potential reader a visual idea of what the book/movie is about?

4) Killer Title. Snyder says if the logline has these elements your pitch will be successful. Even better condense the movie for the marquee and – voila!

So we may not be screenwriters, but as authors if we heed Snyder’s advice we have a better chance of selling our book to the publisher and the reader. I thought a look at some well-known books would be interesting.
Killer Titles:
I love all the following books but if someone hadn’t recommended Outlander I never would have read Gabaldon’s work. To Kill a Mockingbird is an intriguing title and Guilty Pleasures means you must buy the book. Fahrenheit 451? It would intrigue but I am not certain the book would sell today on the title alone. Unwind by Neil Shusterman doesn’t work on the title but the one line plot description of “what if your parents could unwind you….” hits the target market. What book titles SELL the book? Do these titles also meet the one line plot description? Do the elements of irony, target market and creation of a mental picture help make the killer Title?
I think the following books may well meet all 4 criteria:Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris and Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson. What do you think?

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Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

This is why I review and read reviews. The Never List is now on my TBR (too be read) list.

The Lit Bitch

Every girl has a list of ‘nevers’ that they follow to keep themselves safe.

Never walk to your car alone late at night. Never accept an open drink from a men you don’t know. Never get into cars with strangers. Never, never, never.

Everyone’s never list is bound to be different. For me the cardinal rule is never get into a car with strangers and that is the same rule that best friends Sarah and Jennifer violate one fateful night.

Sarah and Jennifer have a lengthy list of ‘nevers’ that range from avoiding natural disasters, to avoiding rape and kidnapping. Their never list has served them well all the way up into college until one night they decide to take a cab.

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