Contemporary Realistic Fiction · Review · Young Adult

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherSynopsis from the Inside Cover:

Clay Jensen’s first love records her last words.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a first-hand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself—a truth he never wanted to face.

Review:

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why follows Clay Jensen on an emotional night as he learns the reasons his crush, Hannah Baker, committed suicide—and Clay is one of those reasons. He received a mysterious package of cassette tapes, narrating the reasons for suicide and the life of Hannah. As she narrates, he learns the impact everyone had on her.

Thirteen Reasons Why Hardcover MapThirteen Reasons Why Paperback MapI love the cover for this book. The major difference between the hardback and the paperback, besides the former being in color and the latter in grey-scale, is the included map. The reverse side of the jacket has a colored map, which Clay uses to gain better perspective on Hannah’s story. The paperback has the map inside the book, which is not as large and which is in black and white. I prefer the map in the hardcover because its starred locations contrast better, and it makes me feel like Clay.

Five years ago, a friend recommended Thirteen Reasons Why. I have felt disinclined to read it until this year, and BookTube-A-Thon gave me an excuse to read it. Once I started getting into the book, I realized I was going to read it in one sitting like Clay listened to the tapes. This is a mind-blowing, heartrending tragedy. The way Asher placed snippets from the tapes and Clay’s reactions to them increased the suspense and strengthened Hannah’s words. Asher drove home the importance of being there for others.

Clay’s and Hannah’s developments were well described. Clay learned that everything he does affects everything else. Hannah found she had no friends and many enemies, and no one knew who she really was. Her spiral into depression and despair, coupled with reading it in the same time frame as Clay, echoed like the end of a crescendo in percussive instruments. She made me cry. I don’t remember the last time I cried over a novel—and this much. It started with the fourth tape, and it “snowballed” from there, as Clay would say. Hannah has some great insights into what probably happened in some of the situations, but that made it hurt all the more now that she’s dead.

The novel is a little odd with the format shift between Clay’s thoughts and Hannah’s voice. Hannah’s voice is italicized and has no quotation marks. Of course, the italicized words are favored in writings today, particularly in Young Adult literature. In Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice, Rice used quotation marks to indicate who was talking in the interview, and when Louis quoted what someone said, she reverted to the single quotation mark.  I suppose it would have been harder to keep track of when Hannah was talking and when Clay was reacting to the tape if Asher had followed Rice’s format. Anne Rice’s format worked better for hers because Louis is the one speaking throughout most of the interview, not the interviewer.

Two themes are suicide awareness and the impact people have on each other. For the suicide awareness, Hannah talks about certain signs of a person being suicidal and how she felt when no one noticed. One of the signs is a sudden change in appearance (she chopped off her hair). Another is setting her affairs in order (she gave away her bicycle). The entire point of sending the tapes to all of these people is for them to realize that everything they do and say impacts everyone and everything. In the case of one of the people on the tapes, he started a list that, although it was a joke at the time, contributed to Hannah’s giving up on life. Hannah talked about one girl who she knows probably doesn’t realize the consequences of her actions, and Hannah showed the effect of that girl’s actions on not only Hannah’s life but also the lives of two others. “Everything … affects everything.”

Jay Asher presented the issues of suicide and impact perfectly. All teens, teachers and counselors should read Thirteen Reasons Why.

Genres: Realistic Fiction, YA, Suspense

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

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