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.
Thirteen 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.
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.