Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read in a long time. It is an emotional read, and it stirs up mixed feeling that make it a difficult book to review. However, I found it such a moving story that I had to at least try to write a review.

ImageThirteen Reasons Why tells the story of a high school girl named Hannah Baker, but the book tells her story posthumously. Hannah Baker committed suicide, leaving behind a box of cassette tapes to explain thirteen reasons why she decided to end her own life. After Hannah’s death, these cassette tapes are passed from one person to the next until each person involved in Hannah’s story has heard her explain how he or she was involved in Hannah’s decision. One of these people is Clay Jensen. When he starts listening to the tapes, he doesn’t understand why he’s on the list of people Hannah blames for making her life so miserable that she believed she had no other way out. After all, all Clay did was have a crush on her, and that wasn’t a bad thing, was it?

Hannah tells her story beginning with when her family moved to town. Her first “reason why” is her first kiss—a good memory turned into a nightmare when the boy she kissed exaggerates what happened between them and the rumors start spreading. Hannah describes the ascent of her false reputation as a slut as starting a snowball effect when these false rumors lead to boys taking advantage of her. Bit by bit, the snowball turns into an avalanche as Hannah slowly has her sense of security and self-worth ripped away from her through sexual abuse, betrayal, public humiliation, ridicule, guilt, and depression. You’ll have to read the book to get the specifics on each of Hannah’s thirteen reasons why, but each reason stirs strong emotions in the reader—sadness, anger, sympathy, pity, frustration, despair. Asher writes so effectively that the reader can feel Hannah’s pain and desperation. It makes you want to scream at the injustice and cruelty of the way other people treat Hannah.

But then there’s Clay. Clay didn’t do anything bad to Hannah. He had a crush on her. At a party they talk and connect and eventually kiss. But at this point Hannah is so broken and used to betrayal that she can’t trust Clay, and she pushes him away. Feeling like she has no way out, Hannah overdoses on pills and ends her life.

There are few topics as emotional as suicide. When reading other reviews of this book, I found two typical approaches to suicide. Some readers found this book frustrating because “thirteen reasons why” implies that Hannah blames thirteen people for her own suicide, rather than taking responsibility for her own actions. Other readers loves this book because they sympathized with Hannah’s suffering and blamed the people who hurt her for her death.

Those are most people’s takes on suicide—people either believe suicide is a way of avoiding your responsibility for your own life, or people believe that responsibility belongs to everyone but the victim. But the hard truth is that it isn’t one or the other, it’s both.

The things that happened to Hannah were wrong and cruel. Maybe the people who hurt her didn’t realize what they were doing at the time, but we all should remember that our actions always affect other people, and we need to be careful because of that. Something like sexual abuse is obviously wrong and cruel, but seemingly insignificant things like a small rumor or a making a joke at someone else’s expense can also have painful outcomes. Our actions affect other people, and we have to remember that.

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Jay Asher

At the same time, our actions are our own. It is painful and difficult, but we must strive to rise above our hardships and other people’s cruelty. Because even if it seems like we’re alone and we don’t matter, nothing could be further from the truth. The day before I read Thirteen Reasons Why, my family attended the funeral for a girl we had known since first grade, a girl who had committed suicide. Something the pastor said at the funeral really struck me. He pointed out that there were so many people here to grieve for this girl that not everyone fit in the church. That’s how many people loved her and missed her, how many people were there for her even if she didn’t see it. And that’s something to remember. By committing suicide, Hannah Baker thought she was escaping from the cruelty she endured at the hands of other people, but she was also leaving behind people like Clay—people who cared about her.

Suicide is a strong and delicate topic, but Jay Asher weaves a compelling story. I read the book in a day because I was so caught up in the story that I had to know the next reason. It was a great book, but a heartbreaking story, and definitely worth reading.

September Synopsis

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This beautiful building is McKeldin Library, one of my favorite places to spend time on the University of Maryland campus. On lovely fall days I love to take a blanket and study on the grass, which students call the Mall.

First off, let me start out by saying that I am not dead. No, I’m just really bad at being a consistent blogger, and I apologize for that. And I’m so grateful for Clare, as she has held down the fort while I’ve been MIA. Guys, I owe her so many cookies that it isn’t even funny.

The end of summer ended up being really crazy for me. I went on a fantastic trip with my family to many literary places (I will try to write about them soon!), and finished editing my book. And then a beloved family member passed away at the end of August, and blogging took a backseat as I traveled to Oklahoma to be with family during a really hard time. And then I started my last semester of college on September 3rd! Phew. I’m taking 18 credits and have been working really hard to find a way to juggle school, work, and events with Reformed University Fellowship, an on-campus organization that I have been involved with since my freshman year.

I wish I had superpowers. I wish I could do it all. But this month has shown me a lot about areas in my personal life that need work. I have a hard time dealing with a lot of stress (and boy, did I start this semester stressed), and I have a hard time dealing with change (and it’s my last semester of college…).

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Another reason why Clare and I are friends: We laugh. A lot. And go on many adventures.

One of the Big Things in My Life this month has been that I have finally started submitting queries to agents! What this means is that I basically send a one-page letter with a (hopefully) compelling synopsis of my book to agents, who are the marvelous people who try to connect authors to editors and publishing companies. It means that I am one step closer to becoming published, but now I have to sit around, hope and pray that I wrote a compelling story, and check my email approximately 5,000 times a day as I wait to hear back from agents. Prayer would be appreciated!

I think, however, I have found something somewhat close to equilibrium this semester. I have a routine down, which helps a lot. And I have had a ton of adventures that I hope to share on the blog soon! Now that things have settled down, I am hoping to be more consistent about blogging and to stop abusing Clare’s infinite kindness and patience. Did I mention that I owe her big time? Because I do. And I have been informed that I can repay her in book dedications and cookies. This? This right here? This is why Clare and I are friends.

Grave Mercy

ImageBrittany, 15th Century. Nuns trained to be assassins. Mystery and intrigue at court. The threat of a French invasion. I have your attention now, don’t I? The plot synopsis for R.L. LaFevers Grave Mercy certainly caught my eye. Grave Mercy is the first in LaFever’s His Fair Assassins series, comprised of books about girls trained in the convent of St. Mortain, the patron saint/god of death. The convent trains these girls to be assassins and carry out the will of St. Mortain by killing those whom he has marked for death. Grave Mercy follows the story of one of these girls named Ismae.

Ismae is a seventeen-year-old girl harboring secrets she doesn’t fully understand. She knows that the scar on her back is from when her mother tried to abort her. She knows her father despises her, and she knows the last thing she wants to do is go through with the marriage he has arranged for her. Luckily, she doesn’t have to. Ismae escapes her small village with the help of a mysterious network of people who takes her to the convent of St. Mortain. It is here that Ismae learns the truth about herself: she is the daughter of Mortain, the god of death, she is immune to poison, and that she is chosen to carry out Mortain’s will.

At the convent the nuns teach Ismae everything she needs to know about being an assassin, from the best ways to kill a man to the best ways to seduce him. After learning about a possible French invasion, the convent sends Ismae to the court of the Duchess of Brittany to sniff out those who would betray the duchess. Ismae is excited for her new mission, but less excited that it means she will have to pose as the mistress of the duchess’ half-brother, Gavriel Duval.

At court, Ismae runs into several complications she was unprepared for. She finds both the French and some of the duchess’ own court to be conspiring against the young duchess. It becomes difficult to decide who is trustworthy and loyal. On top of everything, Ismae finds herself slowly falling in love with the very man the convent suspects is the traitor. And most importantly, Ismae comes to realize that the convent may have misunderstood the signs and purpose of Mortain’s will.

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R.L. LaFevers

LaFever’s book is an exciting page-turner. The characters are vibrant and real, making it easy for the reader to invest in the story. The story itself is also very engaging. After all, who wouldn’t want to read about assassin nuns? The female assassin character threatens to be cliché, but Ismae’s insecurities about her identity and purpose counteract that in a way that saves her from being a cliché action heroine. Whereas most female heroines are nothing more than badass fighters incapable of showing any weaknesses, like Katsa in Graceling, Ismae’s struggle with her weaknesses and doubt and make her more human, and more of a girl, than other heroines who are fighters with no character depth.

One of the greatest strengths of the novel, though, is how LaFevers makes the reader uncertain of every character’s loyalty. There are a few characters that you know you cannot trust, like the French and Count d’Albret. But the reader, like Ismae, doubts the true purpose of many of the characters, including Duval’s mother and brother, the duchess’ advisors and attendants, and even the convent itself. Betrayal, it seems, could come from anywhere. LaFevers uses this to make the reader share Ismae’s fear for the duchess’ safety and her paranoia that anyone could be the traitor. This doubt of every character’s true loyalty, along with the progressing relationship between Duval and Ismae, keeps the reader hooked through the very last page.

The Dream Thieves

ImageAs the title of this post suggests, this is a review for Maggie Stiefvater’s newly released book The Dream Thieves. That being known, let me clarify a few things. I promise this review will contain no spoilers. Really, I promise. It also probably won’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve read the first book in Maggie’s Raven Cycle, The Raven Boys. If you haven’t read The Raven Boys, you need to stop reading this review and go read it. You’ll thank me later. If you have read it but it’s been a while, here’s a quick recap.

There’s a girl named Blue and she’s from a family of psychics, only Blue herself isn’t psychic but she does have the power to amplify other people’s psychic abilities. She’s also been told that if she kisses her one true love, he will die. Then there are these boys, called the “Raven boys”, from this elite prep school called Aglionby Academy. There’s Richard Campbell Gansey III, or just Gansey—rich, intelligent, friendly, and intent on finding the long-dead Welsh king Glendower. Then there’s Ronan Lynch, a wild card who likes fighting and car racing—also very rich. There’s Adam—not rich—who works three jobs to pay for his Aglionby education, grew up with an abusive father, and has a crush on Blue. Lastly, there’s Noah, who’s dead, which doesn’t count as a spoiler because if you have read The Raven Boys you would already know this and if you haven’t remember that I told you to stop reading this review. Anyway, Blue falls in with these Raven boys as they join Gansey on his quest to find his Welsh king and while they don’t succeed in finding the sleeping king, Adam wakes the ley line, a magical energy line running through their hometown of Henrietta, Virginia.

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Sketch of Ronan and his raven Chainsaw by Maggie Stiefvater

Now The Dream Thieves picks up the story. The Dream Thieves holds much of the same magic as The Raven Boys, bringing mythical elements into a realistic setting. Hinted at in The Raven Boys but revealed in The Dream Thieves, Ronan has a special talent inherited from his father—he can bring objects from his dreams back into the real world, which also doesn’t count as a spoiler because you can read about it on the book jacket. Adam has a special talent too, which he received after waking the ley line at the end of The Raven Boys—he’s the eyes and hands of Cabeswater, the magical place where Gansey believes Glendower is buried.

In The Raven Boys, Maggie sets the scene and introduces the characters and the story, but in The Dream Thieves she does an excellent job of expanding and developing the characters as the story progresses. Adam grows as a character, for better or worse, as he deals with his pride, his feelings for Blue, his past, and his newfound role as the envoy of Cabeswater. The reader learns more about Ronan and his family, and Ronan matures. He’s still the thrill seeker who loves the adrenaline high, but by the end of the book he learns an important lesson about the difference between thieving and asking for something. Poor Noah is still dead, but he’s there to support his friends. Blue begins to sort out her feelings for the various Raven boys, and both she and Gansey realize how important it is to grow up surrounded by people who love you because not everyone is so lucky…cough…Adam.

The new character additions to the Raven Cycle are the hitman Mr. Gray and Aglionby student Joseph Kavinsky. Mr. Gray is looking for something, the greywaren, but he doesn’t know what it is. Things get complicated for him when he finally does find it and when he gets mixed up with Blue’s mother Maura and the other psychics. Kavinsky always seem to have it out for Ronan, but his personality reflects Ronan’s more dangerous qualities. Kavinsky is also a thrill seeker and enjoys nothing more than street racing with Ronan. He also enjoys getting drunk and high, two things that only make him more dangerous, and he’s harboring secrets of his own.

All that to say, Maggie Stiefvater has done it again. The Dream Thieves is an enjoyable read with mythical story elements and wonderful characters. After waiting so long for the book to come out, I read it in a day and now I wish I had drawn out the experience a little longer. Luckily, the story is not over and now it is time to wait for the release of the third book in the Raven Cycle in September 2014.

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(you’ll understand the car picture once you’re read the book)

The Raven Boys

Maggie Stiefvater is the master of bringing the magical and supernatural into the real world. Her books often feature some mythical element set in a contemporary time. The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy features werewolves living in modern day Minnesota. Lament and Ballad are about fairies getting involved in the lives of musical teenagers. The Scorpio Races tells the story of an island that is home to wild and dangerous sea horses. Stiefvater’s latest series The Raven Cycle is no exception.

ImageThe Raven Boys (book 1 of The Raven Cycle) follows the story of a girl named Blue who grows up in a family of psychics who constantly remind her that she if she kisses her true love he will die. As if a high school girl doesn’t have enough drama to deal with. The solution to this problem seems simple enough—avoid boys so she doesn’t fall in love and kiss/kill one. Blue thinks this is a solid plan considering that most boys in her hometown of Henrietta, Virginia are the entitled rich boys at Aglionby Academy. But if Blue was successful at avoiding boys and love, there wouldn’t be a book, so…

Into Blue’s life walks Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah, four “Raven boys” from Aglionby Academy, but they don’t turn out to be the stereotypical boys Blue expected. Adam is a scholarship student. Ronan has secrets of his own, as does Noah. And Gansey is out to find a long-dead Welsh king. Each of these boys is an interesting character with a unique personality. The boys and Blue all draw the reader’s interest and sympathy, but it is Gansey’s quest for the dead Welsh king that has the magical pull over readers.

ImageMaggie Stievfater uses Gansey’s quest for his Welsh king to bring in magical and mythical elements into her novel. Much like her other books, this mythical element is one of the most charming elements of the novel. She expertly weaves old Welsh and British mythology in the modern day, giving readers both a taste for the magical and a contemporary reality they can relate to. Even more than purely mythical or magical books, I think that books like Maggie Stiefvater’s offer something special to readers. When mythical stories are set in mythical times and in mythical settings, they are often enjoyable and relatable. But when mythical stories are set in contemporary times and modern settings, the magical seems even more possible. This is the appeal of books like The Raven Boys, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other books like these. They promise that the magical can happen to contemporary people—i.e. the reader.

Book of all genres are a form of escape. Readers escape into the stories and the characters and the adventures. You can imagine you’re traveling with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit or going down the rabbit whole with Alice in Alice In Wonderland. These stories are vivid and real in many ways to a reader. But Maggie Stiefvater books are special because her readers find magical adventures in the real world. In The Raven Boys Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan get caught up in the supernatural. And Maggie Stiefvater, in the vein of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, promises readers that magic is out there in the real world, and just maybe you will find it.

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Gansey and Blue Kiss, artwork by Maggie Stiefvater

Sinner

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Maggie Stiefvater

This week has been an exciting one for many fandoms. J.K. Rowling announced that she will write a screenplay that explores a new part of the wizarding world, Julianne Moore will portray President Alma Coin in The Hunger Games films Mockingjay Part 1 and 2, and Maggie Stiefvater, New York Times bestselling author and Printz Honoree, revealed that she has authored a new novel based on her hit series The Wolves of Mercy Falls. It was this last bit of news that had me dancing my happy dance.

For those of you who haven’t read Shiver, Linger, and Forever, I suggest that you do because they are great books, but Maggie’s new book Sinner is a stand-alone novel so you don’t have to have read her Mercy Falls trilogy to get excited for her new book. All you need to know about The Wolves of Mercy Falls is that it follows the stories of various characters in Mercy Falls, Minnesota. Mercy Falls is home to both humans and werewolves. This trilogy focuses mostly on Sam Roth and Grace Brisbane, a regular teenage couple besides the fact that Sam is a werewolf. Shiver and Linger also follow the storylines of Cole St. Clair, ex-rock star turned werewolf, and Isabel Culpeper, the sarcastic Ice Queen who gets caught up with the werewolves in Mercy Falls. It isn’t surprising that Cole and Isabel clash, but as the series progresses they grow to understand each other. And just when you think they’ve fallen in love and will live happily ever after, Maggie Stiefvater sends Isabel back to California and ends the last book.

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The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy

Since Cole and Isabel definitely crack my top 5 OTPs, I was greatly distressed when the Mercy Falls trilogy ended without any closure regarding Cole and Isabel. But now Maggie has promised me and all of her fans closure and much more. Sinner picks up in Los Angeles after the events of the Mercy Falls trilogy. Here is the official description:

‘Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole’s story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole’s darkest secret – his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel’s life. Can this sinner be saved?’

Of course, I don’t need to know much more than that. That’s enough to get me bouncing off the walls in excitement. You had me at ‘Cole’ and ‘Isabel’.  Now it’s going to be a tortuous wait until the release date sometime in July, 2014. Of course, I’m willing to wait. Maggie has yet to disappoint me. I am beyond ecstatic to finish Cole and Isabel’s story. Sinner can’t hit the shelves soon enough.

In the meantime, I will occupy myself with Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book The Dream Thieves, out September 17. The Dream Thieves is the second book in Maggie’s Raven Cycle, the first book being The Raven Boys. In honor of Tuesday’s release of The Dream Thieves, Emily and I are celebrating “Maggie Stiefvater” week, so look out for upcoming reviews of Maggie’s books The Raven Boys and The Scorpio Races. And be sure to pick up a copy of The Dream Thieves  on Tuesday!

Catcher in the Rye and the creation of YA Literature

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J.D. Salinger’s novel wrote about the inward life and perspective of a teenager– something that revolutionized the publishing industry and created a new genre, young adult literature.

Books have been written about teenagers for a very long time. From Little Women to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, bookcases can be filled with books dealing with teenage characters and their adventures But there is a very big difference between books about adolescents and books that fall into the young adult genre. As outlined in my last post, books in the young adult genre generally have:

  • Protagonists who are generally between 12 and 18 years old.
  • Stories told from the perspective of an individual who is between 12 and 18—not an adult looking back on events from adolescence.
  • Coming of age themes

While there have always been books about young adults, most critics agree that the first book that falls into the young adult genre is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which was published in 1951. The Catcher in the Rye, as you may recall from your high school English class, is told from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old boy named Holden Caulfield. After being expelled from his prep school in Pennsylvania, Holden Caulfield spends three days in New York City and the novel focuses on the difficulties and angst Holden experiences about growing older. “I don’t give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age,” Holden notes at one point in the novel. “Sometimes I act a lot older than I am – I really do – but people never notice it. People never notice anything.”

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Holden Caulfield, in his own words.

This book is largely recognized as the first in its genre because of Holden’s limited perspective and his first person point of view narration. Patty Campbell explains why this book and Salinger’s character Holden are seminal to the genre, saying, “In The Catcher in the Rye we first hear that self-absorbed, angry and touchingly vulnerable voice of the One True Outsider and see the adult world through Holden Caulfield’s limited but judgmental perception”. Holden uses certain slang words and phrases that underline his cynical perception of the world—crummy and phony, among others—and sometimes is not sure of how to unravel his own emotions, as when he hires a prostitute but starts to feel “peculiar” when she starts to undress and makes excuses so she will stop. He can be sullen and angry, but also honest and vulnerable. “And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.” Holden is a complex character—angry and awkward, confused, lonely, and scared about the future, and his narration perfectly captures those emotions, which are all part of the adolescent experience.

David Levithan, author of Young Adult books such as Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and an editorial director at Scholastic, backs up Patty Campbell’s statement in an essay aptly titled “How J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” Helped Create Young Adult Literature”. He says, “Holden Caulfield is the embodiment of what we mean by the phrase “young adult” – too young to be a grown-up, but too wise to the world to be completely innocent. He’s caught in the in-between, and that in-between is what all young adult authors write about.”

Holden Caulfield has a very distinctive voice and a unique vocabulary and point of view. He also has a singular outlook on life, one that has been tainted by the world of the adults around him, but he is still innocent in some ways. This is what sets The Catcher in the Rye apart from adult novels: the fact that Holden in not able to transcend or break free from his teenage perspective. He is not looking back on his actions in the books with regret or a fond smile, but is experiencing them along with the readers, and this is what defines young adult literature.

Part 1: Why Young Adult Literature is Important

Part 2: What is Young Adult Literature?

Part 4: How The Outsiders changed young adult literature

Part 5: How The Chocolate War won the battle for realistic fiction