Friday, July 1, 2011
Book Review: "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher
I've read a great deal of so-called young adult (YA) fiction over the last few years, and as I've remarked previously, a great deal of it deals with dystopian visions of the future, or relationships with vampires, werewolves, zombies or other demon hunters. While Jay Asher's excellent Thirteen Reasons Why takes place in the present day, it also paints a bleak yet hopeful picture, but from a completely different perspective.
Clay Jensen is a studious and well-liked high school student, who returns home one day to find a shoebox of cassette tapes on his doorstep, mailed with no return address. As he starts listening to the first tape, he discovers they were recorded by his classmate (on whom he had a crush), Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the tapes, Hannah gives 13 reasons why she took her life, reasons she attributes to 13 different people, and she explains each in detail. Clay doesn't understand why he is on this list, and he is tremendously affected by what Hannah has to say, and by the actions that drove her to suicide.
This is a beautifully written and emotionally powerful book, which thankfully has proven popular among middle school and high school students, as I believe it sends some very important messages about suicide without being heavy-handed or preachy. You never know how your actions, which may seem utterly harmless, may affect another. While at times I felt somewhat frustrated by Hannah's anger, I realized that when a person is driven to suicide, they are not thinking rationally, and aren't willing to let people in to help them. This book is a bit depressing given the subject matter, but it also sounds a hopeful tone near the end, one which I hope all readers hear. A quick and affecting read, but not a light one.