Being young is hard: your self confidence is at an all time low, and you’re surrounded by similar people who decide to tear you down to make themselves feel better. I was lucky to have a good high school and college experience overall, but I dealt with my fair share of jerks, snubbing, and rumors. Until you’re out of college and are primarily worried about paying for food and rent, the way others treat you can be really hurtful. Wouldn’t it be great to get back at all those people who shunned you, mocked you, whispered behind your back? I saved my college rejection letters and forgot about the people who did me wrong in high school/college and decided that I would use my life experiences to motivate myself to rise above it all and become successful. My revenge was knowing that the haters are now stuck with unplanned pregnancies/working menial jobs/etc while I am planning to live in Turkey and do something meaningful with my life.
But I digress, this post is not about me, but about the book pictured above: Thirteen Reasons Why. This book was very popular a few years ago so I’m a little late jumping on the bandwagon. I stumbled across it when I was looking for Warm Bodies, and remembered several people recommended this book to me. Basic premise: Clay gets a mysterious box of tapes, which he soon finds out are recorded by Hannah, a fellow student who recently committed suicide. On the tapes she says that there are thirteen people that contributed to her decision to commit suicide, and he is one of them. After he listens to all the tapes, he must pass them on to the next person on the list.
Let’s start with what I did like about the book: I think that it’s important to start an open discussion about suicide and the effects bullying has on teens. Now, I don’t think Hannah was bullied any worse than a normal teenage girl (which is unfortunate that it’s expected that teenage girls are going to face a certain level of harassment and slut shaming, but that’s a whole other issue I won’t get into here), but it’s important for teens to recognize that their actions and words do have consequences. I sincerely hope that’s the message teens get from this book.
On the opposite end, the message I got from the book was that suicide is a valid form of revenge. If you end your life, boy will those a-holes feel sorry for all they did to you. Hannah was clearly thinking this as she recorded her tapes. I’m sure a lot of suicidal teens feel similar sentiments, but the way Asher glamorized this concept was sickening. It worked: Hannah’s tapes made everyone on the list feel regretful, even Clay whom Hannah claimed didn’t really play a role in her suicide. Despite that, Clay ended up at the end of the novel cowering in a park, racked with guilt over how he “wronged” Hannah and could have helped her. I was furious that Hannah would put all this shame and guilt on a teenage boy that just admired her from afar. It would have been a better ending if Clay realized that underneath her anger and sadness, Hannah had an underlying mental condition, like depression, that was the ultimate cause of her suicide. Clay would realize that he wasn’t responsible for the happiness of a mentally unstable person and would come to peace with himself and with Hannah. Two years ago my brother’s best friend committed suicide and watching my brother deal with the sadness, grief, and guilt that he couldn’t help his friend was heartbreaking. It took awhile for my brother to realize that there wasn’t anything more he could do as a friend. When I remember this and read about a vindictive, angsty teen PURPOSELY try to make her fellow classmates carry the burden of her death, I became extremely upset.
All in all, I enjoyed the book, but absolutely despised Hannah. Additionally, I think Asher could have done more research on suicide to paint a more accurate picture of the complicated intricacies behind it. Clearly this book was written to start a discussion, so the least he could have done was try to be more accurate. As an adult, I know that this book is fiction and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but I think it gives teens the wrong idea of what exactly causes suicide. In my opinion, it starts with an internal imbalance and is amplified by outside influences, not the other way around. But I’ll admit, I’m not expert on the topic.
I gave this book 3/5 stars because it was a though provoking book, but had some factual flaws I could not overlook.