on February 7, 2008
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 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 February 7, 2014
I can't remember the last time I was so agitated upon finishing a book. The concept was interesting but the execution was completely lacking. What could have been a touching story imparting the dangers of bullying, in reality is a dangerous blame game. I don't want to get into any spoilers, but I will say that by the end of the book it becomes impossible to feel bad for the girl who killed herself. Her character reveals that she has hurt people worse than they ever hurt her, but then she goes on to shame and blame them anyway. The boy who did nothing but have feelings for her ends up believing that it was his responsibility to save her and that he failed her. The book ends with him living with the guilt of not saving her, even though that was never his job in the first place. This is a dangerous lesson for a book classified as young adult fiction. I'm sure that this book started off with good intentions, but it absolutely did not accomplish anything positive for teen suicide or bullying awareness.
on September 8, 2013
I'm not a proffesional critic, as I'm in my early teens. I don't have a grand intro to this review, but what I can say is that this book was a personal letdown.
I heard so much hype over this book that I HAD to read it, and read it I did.
Starting off with the double narration, I was quite pleased with how it was portrayed. I was a little confused at first, but I caught on quickly. But the whole leadup to what Clay was going to be held accountable for was just boring and I found myself groaning and rolling my eyes when it showed that he really didn't do ANYTHING!!
The placement of the character of Clay's mother was a little more than awkward for me. She didn't serve a necessary purpose and just seemed too extraneous.
Suicide is a very heavy topic, and some authors portray it in their stories very well. But with this story, I just wasn't impressed and I failed to see the heartbreaking beauty of this book. Would I recommend it? No.
on October 31, 2012
I am a high school English teacher. I did not like that the book made the teachers sound ridiculously clueless. That Mr. Porter did not run after her or do something as a follow-up to their conversation does nothing but make teachers sound like they have no idea what is going on with their students, or that their students may need help. And the teacher who had the students provide topics of discussion seems to be dabbling in counseling realms in which she has no training or background.
I also found Hannah unappealing and unbelievable in many ways. She has parents who loved her, but she has NO relationship with them, whatsoever. She had many people in her life who could have loved her if she had let them. She refused to let them in. She is bright, articulate, and witty; yet she makes this decision to end her life, which does not at all fit her character or her circumstances.
I don't believe Hannah wanted help. On the last night of her life, she created her own story. In fact, she chose what happened throughout the whole book. She had already planned to reveal her last night on the final tape, so being taken advantage of in the hot tub was necessary to her purposes . . . so she sets the stage for it to happen, puts herself right in a hot tub undressed with someone she knows will take advantage of her, allows him to, and then provides the detailed account in the final tape.
This is nothing but a highly disturbing revenge story. I see no psychological value in it being devoured by so many of today's young people. If anybody should feel suicidal, it is Clay. He may never be able to have a normal relationship with a female as a result of the tapes, created to "get back" at all the people in her life who wronged her, even though he was not one of them.
I am not sure what this book is seeking to accomplish among young people but I really can't see that it is helpful for someone suicidal to read it.
on February 12, 2015
First off, this is not a happy book. This is not a funny book. There is not the remotest bit of happiness to be found in it anywhere. Believe me, I’ve tried. It does not start positively. It does not end positively (well, that may be up to interpretation, but I’ll tell you this: I did not feel the least bit positive when I read the end).
So why would anyone want to read such a downer? Such a depressing book? Well that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m here to tell you.
Not every story is going to be a happy one. Not every story is going to have a happy ending. And more often than not, these stories…are the ones that are true. Life is not happy. It sucks, and then you die, as is the saying. We have to find- or make- our happiness. As Dumbledore said,
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
For people like Hannah, the stories are awful. They may start off well, but in the end, it becomes too much to bear, and the benefit of death outweighs the potential benefit of life. These stories do not end well at all. For people like Hannah, these stories end in death.
But is it really a bad ending to the story? Maybe it’s a good ending, for her, at least. No more snowball effects.
And not a lot of people realize this. We think we do, but we can’t truly comprehend what it’s like unless we are like Hannah ourselves. We don’t know the extent of our actions.
And that brings me to what is probably the main point of this story: be nice and genuine to others because we don’t know what they’re going through. There’s a saying that goes around: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Socrates said that. You know what the battle is? Life. And it’s the hardest one of all.
We can’t know how our actions will affect others, so it’s best to play it safe and obey the golden rule. This sounds like something we’d hear over the PA system at school. Some encouraging quote. My school is fond of this. But oh, how the meaning would change if we lost a classmate to suicide!
‘Lost.’ If we ‘lost.’ You know what that implies? That he or she was ours. Also that it was a tragic accident. You lose a pencil. You lose a contest. You don’t lose a classmate. And people say they have lost friends or family members. Same sort of deal. You didn’t lose them. If it was suicide, they chose to leave. (And if it wasn’t- well, Death simply came and said their time was up.)
The point I mean to make here is that oftentimes, a school will grieve over a suicide without even truly knowing the student. The person. This was the case here with Hannah. No one really knew the real her. Not even Clay, although he wanted the chance. He was scared.
The lesson he learned? Act now. Carpe diem. Tell people that you love them, because time is short. (But shout it at them in German, because life is also terrifying and confusing. I didn’t make that up; I read it online somewhere. But how true it is.) And this was evidenced by the end. But it was too late for Hannah.
I’m not sure. If I had to come up with advice for a school or person grieving someone who chose suicide, I’d say this: Let them go. And remember, wherever they are now, their battle is a much easier one than the one you are currently facing. Life is the hardest battle; death is an escape.
All in all, I think that Hannah’s story was hard one to hear, but a necessary one. I thought it was great that Clay and Hannah’s story wasn’t one of heartbreak, but of destroyed potential. One of possibility and lessons to learn. I’m glad that subjects like this can be tackled in a reasonable matter aimed at people of the age that this is most relevant to.
I was surprised how this book affected me. Given my history, I figured it would spike up my depression a bit. Well, a lot. But truthfully, it didn’t really, any more than usual. Nah, with depressing books I’m fine, but give me a mostly happy middle grade or somesuch book and I’ll immediately start contemplating the futility of life.
Did this book change my life? Not particularly. I’ll go on a bit more in my essay. But it did make me want to vomit a little. And I expect that’s the kind of reaction the book was hoping to get.
on July 10, 2012
The premise of this book is good.The actual story was weak. The only sympathy I have for the heroine in this book is the fact that she is mentally ill and in need of medication and intensive inpatient therapy. The book only touches on the fact that her parents do not pay any attention to her. She blames the kids at school for her decision to take her own life. By making audiotapes and sending them to any person who committed even the slightest injustice, is the ultimate vindictive act.
The book does not make it clear enough for a teenager to understand the gist of the story. I don't know if the average teenager would understand that the girl is the one to blame for her actions. If they read this book and side with the girl, then this book gives a very dangerous message. I understand that yes, you should be nice to everyone but using a girl for a ride to a party or standing her up for a date should not cause her to give up hope and want to end it all.
The book also did not show clearly, all the ways that this girl invited some of the problems that she had. If she suspected that the boy wanted to grope her in the ice cream shop, don't sit on the inside of a booth and when he touches you, say firmly to stop, not stare into your cup and then whisper "why are you doing that?" Come on.
Most girls would understand that when someone is outside your bedroom window taking pictures, you don't just say "oh poor me" and dress under your blanket. You would call the police.
She definitely had self esteem issues and very poor coping mechanisms. I wish the book would have explained that better.
on May 16, 2014
I was very intrigued by the premise of this book, which had so much promise, but in the end the story did not deliver. First off, Clay (the character through whom we listen to the infamous tapes) is at most two-dimensional. I did not find him to be a believable teenage boy, and he's idealized at best. Second, Hannah and the storyline do not add up. Hannah, Clay's lost crush, does not come across as a sympathetic character spiraling into despair. She's ticked off, and rightly so, but never acts the girl who has lost all hope. She uses her suicide like a vengeful slap in the face, not the "way out" it is used as by those experiencing deep depression. Lastly, the reasons for her suicide are weak. I just kept asking...Really? That's why she killed herself?
When I discovered that this book is approved for Grade 7 and up, I was almost in disbelief. Is this what we want to tell our young and impressionable daughters? That these regrettable things that happen to her are validation for suicide?
All this being said, I understand that the objective of the book is to make us remember that our actions and words can cut deep. It is also a good reminder to young readers to take anyone's mention of suicide very seriously and to treat it as the cry for help that it is.
on February 16, 2014
I teach teenagers (and, yes, was once one myself), and I can't think of a worse message to send teenager. Yes, words, rumors, sexual double standards, and enormous social pressure are HORRIFIC and PAINFUL for young people. Should we continuously work to fight bullying and the pressure for young women to be viewed sexually? ABSOLUTELY. However, this book inadvertently (I hope) glorifies a female heroine who almost appears to thrive on her identity as a victim. I admire that the author was trying to teach us that words and gossip can and DO really hurt, and can often hurt to the point of causing self-abusive behavior. But, let's empower our literary heroines to be the ones who, despite pain, suffering, and teenage injustice, show us how to cope with it through speaking out, seeking to find people who will listen and validate us, and finding the strength to fight back. Now that's a book I'd want my own daughter to read.