I just finished this -- and I am telling you it was compelling. It should be required reading by anyone in high school or middle school -- or anyone who has a child in high school or middle school. Basically it tells of Clay Jensen, a high school student who receives a box of audiotapes narrated by a girl who he had a crush on, Hannah Baker, who has recently committed suicide. The book interweaves her words from the audiotapes with his comments and memories. It gives Hannah's reasons why she did what she did and names the people (who also are receiving audiotapes - each person is to mail them to the next person on the list) and why they contributed to what happened. It may have been something big, somewhat small, something seemingly innocent, something no so much. But it all leads up to Hannah not being able to cope by herself even when she reaches out for help. If anyone can read this and see themselves in it and make changes - or even better see someone else and reach out in compassion, this book will have a huge effect.
on March 15, 2014
I work with seriously emotionally disturbed children, teenagers and families. I read this book because some of the teens I was working with were very taken by it. I found it to be a very simplified caricature of a suicidal teen. Having worked with actual people who are actually suicidal, I can tell you, the '13 Reasons' that Hannah killed herself wouldn't have even made the list for most people contemplating suicide. It may sound harsh, but, barring any serious underlying mental illness (to which there was no reference), Hannah would never have killed herself for the reasons stated.
This is such a popular book, and unfortunately it does a real disservice to teens in their understanding of suicide and what to do about it. The idea that a counselor, upon hearing that a student was considering suicide, let her walk away without contacting her parents is unthinkable. Aside from this being unethical (which, granted some therapist's are), no therapist would ever think to act in such away due to the legal ramifications. Even the most incompetent would have immediately gotten Hannah help.
Aside from the above issues, comes the underlying message. What was it? Be nice to people or they might kill themselves? Be on high alert for people who seem sad? Mostly what I got out of it was that you are responsible for others actions. It seems very one sided. In truth, we all do cruel things, we can all think back on times when, for one reason or another we behaved badly. To say that human error deserves such retribution is alarming. Not only that, this idea of post-death vindictiveness is a very attractive idea to teenagers who feel misunderstood and unheard.
On the whole I felt this book romanticized the notion of suicide and was written by someone who clearly doesn't understand teenagers or mental health. In terms of writing, I found the the character of Clay to be multidimensional, if a little over the top in terms of naivety and niceness. The other characters seemed flat. Hannah seemed completely fake because, as referenced earlier, her theatrics and explanations resembled nothing even close to those of actually suicidal teens.
on March 31, 2011
I am one of the rare minority who did not enjoy this book. In fact, I was completely annoyed with it. I struggled through it and kept rolling my eyes. It took a lot to make myself finish it. I hoped it would get much better, since there is so much positive hype surrounding this book, but unfortunately it did not. I am also going to preface my negative comments by saying that I am not at all mean-spirited, heartless, or think lightly of suicide. I also have been at the receiving end of some terrible things in high school so I do know what that feels like, and so I am not approaching this as simply someone who didn't experience bad things in high school. Suicide is an extremely serious issue, and I think it is extremely important to be explored in books, especially considering the epidemic of teen suicides we have been facing lately. However, I felt like this book did not give it the respect and seriousness it deserves. I loved the concept of this story, and I think a story like this has the potential to be amazing and powerful. Perhaps if it was tackled by a different author or had different characters, maybe I would have thought it was.
I did enjoyed the dual narration format of the book. This was a very interesting and engaging format to choose. However, it did get a little bit confusing for me with the back and forth, not only because it switched from character to character as well as from present to flashback. This might have been because I was not 100% engaged with the book since I did not enjoy it, and so I bet I got a bit sloppy in my reading habits. I also applaud the creativity of the book, because it is such an usual and unique premise. The writing also is engaging, flows well, and is never boring.
My main problem was the characters. While I thought Clay was a very realistic character, and the emotions he went through while listening to Hannah's tapes where very realistic and appropriate, I did not like Hannah. I thought Hannah's voice seemed whiny and annoying. I felt as if she was being a spiteful, vindictive little child in talking to the people listening to the tapes, rather than seriously wanting people to know how their actions affected her. She was laughing and sounded humorous when I feel like she should have sounded somber and depressed. Her actions pointed to somber and depressed, yet her voice came away the exact opposite. This sounds terrible, but my impression of her voice was like "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! I killed myself and now you have to feel bad!" That is not at all what I wanted to come away with from this character. With her voice being this way, I could not sympathize with her. I tried and tried, but I just couldn't.
I am also annoyed with the reasons Hannah gave for her suicide. Some of them seemed so minute to me! Yes it's true, these things seem less terrible now as an adult removed from high school, and when they happen they seem like the end of the world, but I feel like the author could have chosen more substantial reasons or made them more significant. I won't go into the reasons, so this will be spoiler free.. but the reasons are all so little and silly, like an embarrassing thing or annoying thing that happened. What Hannah experienced seemed to be the norm for high school, and not valid enough reasons for her to want to kill herself. Now, I know that this book is supposed to show how small little actions have big ramifications, and I'm not trying to say that anyone should be made fun of for their reasons that push them to suicide... just that it didn't seem realistic. It annoyed me was too ridiculous for me. Perhaps Hannah sounded so ridiculous to me because she was written by a male author who maybe doesn't get girls and what they sound like and how they feel. I feel like this was more thirteen reasons why of a twelve year old, not an older high schooler. I also realize that Hannah did give up on life halfway or three-quarters of the way through her reasons, but what she did from then on really angered me. She then began to actively seek out terrible situations and place her self in them on purpose, and then yet saying wish it wouldn't have happened or that people would have stopped it. It was really aggravating.
I feel really bad reviewing this book so harshly. I think if it was a normal fluffy book about an insignificant topic, I wouldn't have felt bad. But I feel bad because of the sensitive nature of the topic. But, I guess you can't change your impression of a book so no use feeling bad about it.
on October 17, 2007
I don't often write introductions to my reviews. In fact, the last time I can remember doing so was with the wonderful Pucker by Melanie Gideon, which I read in 2006. However, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, the debut novel from author Jay Asher, is the type of book that begs an introduction. So if you'd like to skip down to the third paragraph for the "meat" of the story, I won't hold it against you -- but you'll be missing something important.
If you have the chance to only read one novel this year, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY should be that book. It's sad, amazing, heartbreaking, and hopeful, all at the same time. I dare you to read it and not become so immersed in the story that you lose track of time and your surroundings. You'll cry, several times, while reading this story. You'll have no choice but to think about your actions, and wonder what type of effect they have on other people. And, in the end, you might also find the need to say "thank you."
Now, on to the story...
When Clay Jensen finds a package on his front porch, he's excited. A package, for him? With no return address? What could it possibly be? What Clay finds is a shoebox full of cassette tapes, each marked as "Cassette 1: Side A," "Cassette 1: Side B," etc. Of course he rushes to the old radio/cassette player in his dad's garage to check out these mysterious tapes.
And soon wishes, wholeheartedly, that he'd never picked up that stupid package from his front porch.
What he hears when he inserts that first tape is the voice of Hannah Baker. Hannah, the girl he'd crushed on for longer than he could remember. The girl he went to school with. The girl he worked at the movie theater with. The girl who had changed, drastically, in the last several months. Hannah Baker, the girl who committed suicide.
Clay soon realizes that these tapes aren't just a suicide note, aren't, really, even a clear-cut rendition of why she did what she did. Instead, these are thirteen reasons -- thirteen people, to be exact -- who created a snowball-effect of events that led Hannah to believe that suicide was her only option. But why is Clay on that list? How could he possibly be one of the reasons that she killed herself?
As the day goes on, Clay becomes obsessed with listening to the tapes. And what he hears frightens him, disturbs him, and, in the end, leads him to realizations that he never would have expected. As Clay listens to the role that thirteen people, including himself, led in the ultimate death of Hannah Baker, his view of the world, and himself, changes drastically.
You will love this book, because you won't be able to help yourself. You will feel what Clay feels. You will, in a very strong way, experience the highs and lows of Hannah's life right along with her. And there is nothing, in my opinion, that could speak better for the authenticity of a book. Read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. And then, if you're like me, you'll read it again. And, hopefully, none of us will ever forget it.
Reviewed by: Jennifer Wardrip, aka "The Genius"
on July 26, 2011
In his debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher submits his entry into the adolescent literature genre that has boasted such modern classics as The Book Thief, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Speak in the past 15 years. The book is an International best seller and has been translated into 31 languages.
Which is frankly mind-boggling.
The premise is intriguing enough - after killing herself, Hannah Baker sends 13 tapes to 13 different people detailing her story and how each one of them was in some way responsible for her decision to commit suicide. The story is told through Clay Jensen, one of the 13 who receives the tapes and contributes to Hannah's demise. Now that we got through the best part of this book - the summary on the back - let's move on to where it failed, which is everywhere else.
Though the plot does make for an interesting dust jacket read, stylistically, Asher fails. The entire thing reads like chunks of exposition. We are getting Hannah's story in Hannah's voice, through the tapes, through Clay. This choice leads to a feeling of too many degrees of separation, a disconnect between the readers and the girl we're supposed to feel sorry for.
Speaking of Hannah, rather than sympathizing with her, I spent the majority of the book wishing this petulant brat had chosen a more violent end (she only takes pills). The character's tone throughout the novel is spiteful, vindictive, and petty. The girl on the tapes sounds, not like a depressed teenager truly wanting people to understand how their actions affected her, but more as if she just wanted to send all the mean people in high school on massive guilt trips. She takes some sort of perverse, villainous pleasure out of all this; I was picturing her twirling her cartoon mustache. Asher's depiction of a teenage girl is so laughably farcical that it seems as if she was written by someone who gets his views of what high school is like for girls from 90210. The reasons that Hannah kills herself are ridiculous. For an example of this sideshow drama, one of the reasons she commits suicide is because a boy puts her name on a list saying she has a nice ass. I'm not kidding. I think you should just shake that money maker, but apparently this is enough to start the snowball effect that leads to her pill-popping. Moreover, Hannah blames everyone but herself throughout this entire book (eventually saying she made the decision, but still implying or outright stating that other people's roles were in the forefront). I don't know how people see this as inspiring for young adolescents; I walked away from the book thinking more about how Hannah foisted all her issues onto other people rather than how our actions affect those around us. Additionally, I feel this book almost glamorizes suicide - high school girls that want to relate to this self-important drama could possibly view this as romantic. Another poor lesson involves a guidance counselor's reaction to a conversation with Hannah. I find this fictitious encounter neither encouraging, nor likely.
Even the "good" character sucked. Clay is some prototypical nice guy with a sensitive side and all that bull. The dude is just not believably written. Not one character in this book lives and breathes on the page. Instead they all feel one-dimensional; thus, dialogue and would-be emotional scenes fall flat. They also share voices - for example, Asher writes his descriptions the same, regardless of it is Hannah speaking on the tapes or Clay observing something. It got to the point where I was seriously irritated that not one of these characters even had an interesting name. Hannah Baker. Clay Jensen. Justin Foley. Christ.
Put in the hands of a more adept writer, I feel the concept behind this novel could have succeeded. While Asher's most obvious flaw in this effort is his inability to write truly human characters, the writing itself is also dry, and for the most part, emotionless, not exactly the tone I would use in writing about a teenage girl's suicide, but perhaps Asher should write about sociopaths in his next attempt at well-written literature.
I doubt Asher would care about these criticisms. He's laughing all the way to the bank with a giant canvas sack adorned with a dollar sign and filled to the brim with tweeners' allowance money. But if you want a good account of a high school girl who isn't an attention-seeking nitwit and has an actual problem, pick up Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because I can't think of one reason, let alone thirteen, why you should put time into reading this drivel.
on June 26, 2012
...to know that I'm not the only one who thought this book was exasperating beyond measure. A friend advised me to read it and she raved about it so I was expecting it to be beyond awesome. I finished it in one evening (it's definitely a page turner) but it just left me feeling fed up with Hannah. I've had my own share of suicidal thoughts, etc so it's not as if I couldn't relate to the character. But I just found myself questioning the whole premise of the book. I understand that most readers found it thought provoking in regards to how our actions can so deeply affect those around us and it does cause you to examine your own actions and behavior towards others.
That said, I think creating a very elaborate map and set of tapes for 13 people and essentially blackmailing them into listening to the tapes just reeks of a vindictive, selfish individual. Perhaps her tapes didn't affect all her listeners as deeply as they affect the narrator but, if it were me, I would be devastated and scarred for life if I received a suicide message along those lines. It's one thing to go back to people who have harmed you and say "Hey, you messed up and you really hurt me. Just wanted you to know" and to move on with your life (with the help of a good therapist in Hannah's situation) but it's another thing to say "Hey, here are a set of tapes that describe all the detailed slights and harms that have been done to me and you can feel horrifically guilty for the rest of your life because I'm DEAD now! So there!"
Yes, some of those people did some horrible things. I'm not excusing their actions. But I also think most of those people honestly didn't know Hannah well. I have no clue what is going on in the private lives of most of the people I see every day. I think if one is living like a decent, kind individual with some awareness of those around you then that is the best you can do. It seemed like Hannah wanted everyone to read her mind and walk on eggshells around her. That is just absolutely impossible for all of us to do all the time (particularly the reading the mind part).
Ultimately, suicide was Hannah's decision, no one else's. I felt like the book was one giant pity party and an attempt on her part to blame her death on others. It just really frustrated me.
on August 4, 2011
Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why is exactly the kind of book teenagers don't need in their lives. It's the psychological fantasy "If I kill myself, they'll be so sorry!" brought to life. I started the book with high hopes; my daughter had recommended it. There is no question that it's a gripping tale--I won't argue with that. The problem is that the main character Hannah--the girl who commits suicide--apparently does so as a way to punish other people, yet she is rational enough not only to create a fairly lengthy diatribe against a bunch of her peers but also to find a way to make that diatribe very public. Yes, some of them need to feel ashamed of themselves; some of them need to be incarcerated, for that matter. Hannah takes the easy way out, though, in the long run, which I found offensive, if not downright maudlin.
I guess one of the things that most bothered me about the book was Hannah's decision to leave the teacher/counselor with apparently the biggest burden of guilt for her choice to commit suicide. From the outset, I assumed he had done something quite awful; her taped instructions were that, as the last recipient on the list, he could take her confession with him "to hell." Later she mentions in passing that this tape might cause someone to "lose a job." Since the teacher's the only one with an actual job, I pieced together that she must be talking about him. So I read on, figuring he'd abused her, insulted her, berated her. . .something. Instead, we find only that he tries to listen to her, and doesn't chase her down when she runs from his office after seeking his advice a grand total of one time.
This does nothing if not glorify suicide as a viable way out, a way of getting revenge on those who have wronged you. I don't recommend it.
on September 1, 2011
I pretty much agree with what the other negative reviewers have said so far. The book is highly engaging, a real page-turner, and easy to finish in just a few hours; but it's a wasted concept and leaves you so disappointed. Except for one or maybe two exceptionally horrible individuals, the people who "caused" Hannah's suicide are just regular high schoolers doing normal (if selfish and dumb) high school things. Hannah constantly complains about situations where no one helped her, where it is blatantly obvious that she did even less to help herself. Her narration is snarky and just as mean-spirited as any of the people she's laying so much blame on (not to mention, it sounds far more like, ahem, a novel than someone speaking off-the-cuff into a recorder, what with all the description and imagery). This is interspersed with the other main character, Clay, reacting to her words, and he always feels utterly sorry for her and agrees that the other kids are awful and deserve nothing but the worst, which I felt was unrealistic. I also agree with the reviewers who were angry that towards the end, she gave up completely and began deliberately making her life worse, yet continued to blame others. The entire book felt like a very heavy-handed message that you should never say or do anything to anyone that is anything less than saintly, because you never know what might push them over the edge; talk about an unrealistic moral. Did Hannah (or Jay Asher) ever consider that some of these "bad" kids probably had things going on in their own lives that SHE had no idea about? The topic is one that needs to be addressed, and the format is truly unique, but this story is wasted on a completely unsympathetic "heroine".
on March 21, 2009
I think the plot of this book is awesome. How interesting to record the last moments of the life of a suicidal teen. It could have given us so much insight into the signs and solutions of such desperate children. Unfortunately, the storyline fell short of any such insight. Very short. Surely, the author must have known that the reader would hate Hannah Baker. Did he honestly think we'd pity her? She was a whining, self-absorbed drama queen. These are the types that threaten to kill themselves, but never do. They just talk about it, milking everyone of as much sympathy as possible and then creating major theatrics when their targets don't follow the script. I have done extensive research on suicide for a newspaper feature I wrote once. I learned that suicide occurs when the pain outweighs the ability to cope. Hannah Baker created her own pain. She staged her own downfall in order to collect more pity. She had some major issues, but they were psychological and internal and had nothing to do with the people on the list. Are there people out there like that? Absolutely. But are they the ones who follow through with suicide? Not likely. Tape after tape, I waited for the major crime committed by each person on the list. Tape after tape, I was disappointed, left to wonder what on earth the climax was. If anything, the victims were the people on the list and Hannah, the villain. Because she was such a self-centered little head case, incidents far worse than her own occurred. She sat by feeling sorry for herself while another girl was raped only a few feet away. Does she report it? No, because she wants to be the victim, not the poor girl unconscious on the bed. She failed to call the police right away when a stop sign was knocked over, causing the death of a young boy. A week later, she strips down to her underwear and gets into a hot tub with the same guy she saw raping someone else. No surprise what happens there.
I gave this 3 stars instead of 1 because the book created a reaction and opinion in me. It created controversy. That's a positive quality in a book. But I gave it 3 stars instead of 5 because of the weak storyline. I wanted to care at the end of each tape. I wanted to pity the girl. Instead, I only felt annoyed that she (and the author) wasted my time. I also rated it low for the dull, lifeless characters. None of them had any substance and none of them sounded like teenagers. I did kind of like Tony, but he seemed to be thrown in as an afterthought.
Despite this low rating of Thirteen Reasons Why, I do believe that Jay Asher has real potential as a continual author. I look forward to his next book but sincerely hope he strengthens his contextual style.
on April 28, 2011
I just read this book because I am a school counselor, and I discovered that several students at our school were reading this book. I was worried about the content and possible messages the book is sending. I realize that there is a potentially good message in this book: "What you do makes an impact on other people, so think carefully about how you treat others." I completely agree with this message. Unfortunately, I think the dangerous messages in this book are more frequent. The characters in the book were constantly wondering, "If I had done something differently, would Hannah still be alive?" This dialogue could communicate to teenagers that if they do or say the wrong thing, they might cause someone to commit suicide. This is too heavy a burden for anyone to carry. A person who chooses to end his or her own life is responsible for that choice. If someone hurts me, they are responsible for their hurtful actions, but they are not responsible for how I deal with my pain. Furthermore, adolescents already tend to have a false perspective on life that this book perpetuates: "If others are causing me problems, my problems won't be fixed until those people change." This is a message of hopelessness because we can't change others; we can only grieve the hurts we experience. Hannah's character chose to get revenge and take her life instead of taking the risk of telling someone exactly how she was doing. She is not a good model of how to handle the trials of adolescent life. If you are an adult wondering if your teenager should read this book, I personally (and professionally) do not see many benefits from reading this book, but I did get several potentially dangerous messages from it (aside from the sexual content, which I would also be wary of).