book review, suicide, Drama, teen novel, bullying, thirteen reasons why, Jay Asher, books, book, book/tv tie in

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Clay Jensen finds a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch, when he gets back from school, one day, two weeks after Hannah Baker killed herself. He discovers cassette tapes, inside the shoe box recorded by Hannah Baker. There are 7 tapes with thirteen reasons why she ended her life. The thirteen reasons being, thirteen people who she felt created the butterfly effect to why she committed suicide. Clay listens to the tape to hear how he fits into the 13 people and events leading up to her suicide.

I am actually not going to spend any more time on a big synopsis on this book as I want to give more opinions on the book itself as it does touch home for me.

When I first picked up this book, I was already aware that there is a TV series being produced on it. There is also a big hype about the book and the TV series (which I have not watched) and as usual Curious George gets the better of me so I decided to read the book to see what all the hype was about. I happen to also like Teen novels every now and then. Reading other’s reviews online I found, as many people hated the book there were almost equal amounts that loved it.

I started reading and just coming out of reviewing The Girl on the Train, I thought to myself, “please, not another narrative that is going to bore the crap out of me”, but the book content did surprisingly leave me gripped to the end.

It was very simply written, no high exotic and exquisite words, not that you would expect that from a Teen novel, but very mundane yet captivating. The author really did get into Hannah’s mind in a very straightforward, uncomplicated and manageable to understand way. I think those that do not connect with Hannah may miss the depths of this simplicity.

I have very mixed feelings about the book. I cannot decide whether I love to hate it or hate to love it. If I loved it would be because the teenager [me] related and connected to Hannah in a profound way. I am going to relay my own personal experience here, because I think the book got a lot of criticism from those that possibly did not have these mixtures of simple and harsh experiences happen to them and really, I am going on a speculation too.

As a teenager, I would not have considered myself being bullied in school but my hypersensitivity to my peers was high on the Richter scale, due to other environmental circumstances. I have been a victim of rumors sometimes too, but it was often overshadowed by more pressing issues in my life, so often I would feel secluded or highly sensitive to teasing. Unfortunately, if you had to ask anyone in school who knew me did not know that. I even overdosed when I was 15 and went to school and remember my P.E. teacher taking me home because I was so ill by 8h30 in the morning and she hadn’t a clue of the overdose and nobody till this day knew about it until they probably may read this review. I even went to our guidance counselor once, and he could not believe the problems I experienced as a teenager, simply because my high grades represented one of a well-balanced pupil.

This is the part of me that relates to Hannah. It is the part that understands that even though things are so meaningless said and things are done so thoughtlessly by some of our peers and teachers and those we are around every day, it still has dire circumstances. Other critics felt the experiences Hannah had was not enough for her to kill herself, but all negative experiences are serious, no matter how great or small! Then teenager in me wants to almost scream out, “You do not understand!!!” I can even relate to some of Hannah’s self-destructive behavior even though I did not self-destruct in the way she did.

If I hated the book, it will be because I am 41 years old now (a mother of a teenager) and I survived many uphill and Hannah could have too. She did not have the will to live and gave up in a matter of a few years. My atrocities in life were far greater than hers, so I can understand why the critics felt the experiences she had was not great enough for her to surmount to suicide. Perhaps the suicide was meant to send a definite message? The tapes also seemed like something revengeful rather than positive. The adult in me is criticizing the author to have not put such a definite ending in a book especially if you are writing for a teenage audience that possibly is going through the same problems and feels the only way out is suicide. The teenage years can be such a delicate age and something like this book, that sometimes feels like it glamourizes teen suicide, can lead teenagers to end their lives as they feel there is no other way out.

This story can be twofold. Teenagers who read it and connect to Hannah, some may feel suicide is the only way and some may feel that Hannah has a message, which is to seek help before it is too late. I am thinking that the former is more easily read in this story rather than the latter and for the sake of the teenagers in the world, I have great hopes on rather the latter being understood and this opens a conversation about Teen suicide more than anything else.

Leaving out the suicide aspect of the book, which in my opinion could have had a more positive ending, Hannah’s story is as real as it gets in a very simple narrative. No teenage girl or boy for that matter should experience what Hannah experiences. May this book begin a conversation, like no other and begin to understand rumors, bullying and other teenage struggles our kids face every day. Let us keep the communication lines open for our teenagers and may the bullies and gossipers realize as innocent their act may seem it can have destructive and permanent damages.


Pragashnie Naidoo