Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

[[In honor of 13 Reasons Why's 100th week on the bestseller list, here's a review!]]  

Title:  Thirteen Reasons Why
Author:  Jay Asher
Format:  Paper, Kindle
Rating:  9.5 / 10
Description:  When Clay Jenson plays the casette tapes he received in a mysterious package, he's surprised to hear the voice of dead classmate Hannah Baker. He's one of 13 people who receive Hannah's story, which details the circumstances that led to her suicide. Clay spends the rest of the day and long into the night listening to Hannah's voice and going to the locations she wants him to visit. The text alternates, sometimes quickly, between Hannah's voice (italicized) and Clay's thoughts as he listens to her words, which illuminate betrayals and secrets that demonstrate the consequences of even small actions.

In a market where the loudest voices are the teen girls with their breathtaking romances, the problems of the ordinary teen are often neglected.  There’s nothing wrong with these books.  They’re thrilling and a perfect escape from an ordinary life.  But ordinary life is important too, and there aren’t many teenagers out there whose problems include a vampire-werewolf love triangle or their own budding magical powers.  Friends and family are left to the wayside, and the boy problems become the only problems.  Yet teens go through so much, that every problem should have a voice.  Jay Asher brings us this voice as Hannah Baker in Thirteen Reasons Why

From first page to last, the book is a blinding race.  We open on Clay, the narrator, the good boy still reeling over his schoolmate’s death.  Only now he knows her story, and is passing it on to the next listener.  After this prologue, the reader teeters on the top of a peak as we backtrack to Clay first discovering the thirteen tapes and Hannah’s demand:  Listen to them all.  Find out what you did to contribute to my suicide.  Then pass them onto the next person on the list.  Thirteen names, a multitude of little crimes that build on each other.  I started the book at night, planning on reading a little before bed.  I went to sleep at nine in the morning.  Once you start, you’re drawn into Hannah’s tale.  Her voice talks to you as much as Clay; like him, you feel responsible for her.  Indebted.  You can’t stop, because you must know what happened to her, even if you already know how it ended. 

Sometimes I kept skimming Clay’s parts and having to re-read them because I was so engrossed in Hannah’s story; though his voice becomes stronger as time goes on, and it becomes clearer how much he cared for her.  You feel for him too, confused and lost, unsure what he did to drive Hannah to the edge, following her map from place to place and listening to all the little things that sucked the joy from her life.  You can’t give up until he does, and he never does.  Clay and I both sat awake through the night, listening.  And Hannah’s story grabs hold of you and never lets go.  She seems like a sweet, funny, friendly girl in a new place.  Not ever the kind who’d dream of killing herself.  Yet, a single rumor changes her life forever.  Suddenly people see her in a twisted light, and treat her as though the rumors are true.  Each action alone seems unimportant to the actors, but together they weave a tragic story of a teenage girl losing her faith in herself, in people, in life. 

Her voice is remarkably strong, at times tragic, at times funny and irreverent, at times terrified.  So compelling that when I found my paper copy had the last thirty pages misprinted, I bought it on Kindle at eight in the morning just to finish it.  Hannah’s ending is set from the beginning; Clay’s shows hope, and a new understanding of just what little actions can mean, for good or bad.  This is the message that Asher spreads, and it’s something that teens need to hear.  There are thousands of Hannah’s whose voices are never heard.  It’s my hope that people will embrace this book and better understand their suffering classmates.  That the sufferers will draw strength from it and search for help.  Fantasy and romance is fun, but suicide is a crucial issue for young people.  Jay Asher brings it into the open in a way that is accessible, compelling, and above all sensitive to the complicated issues behind it.  A fantastic book that everyone should take a look at.  

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