Book Review: Thirteen reasons Why by Jay Asher

With the recent hype about the Netflix tv show based on this book I decided to first read the book as I think that’s always a good idea. Often it is better than the movie/ show.

I think it’s great that it’s spreading awareness about the issue of teen suicide and how what seem like little things mix with bigger things and everything adds up to make a person feel isolated and like there is absolutely no way out.

This book and the show have done a lot in this area, even getting more traffic to well known crisis services. Which is a huge positive. If the book/show got one person to reach out to a crisis line, teacher at school, counselor ETC or got one person to consider how bullying affects others then it’s worth all the things that I and others dislike about it.

So this book was originally written in 2007. I’m guessing at that time there weren’t a lot of young adult novels dealing with mental illness. Many s say it was the first thing they had read that really resonated with the experience of depression and mental health difficulties. If it was one of the first then it kind of makes sense why it might not be as nuanced a portrayal as other books since.

So the whole thing is that before she kills herself she makes these audio tapes talking about each reason/ person that contributed to it. First of all tapes? In 2007. I mean ok we weren’tt at the facebook [podcast level y yet, if this were written now she could just make a podcast and send to everyone’s e-mails at once with a picture of the map attached LOL. But she could have at least made CDS.

But on a serious note. Basically Hannah strikes me as someone who from the beginning is not secure in who she is. She has very low self-esteem. There is a lot about what I think happened to Hannah that she does not say but that you can hear under her words. For example she does mention family problems. For someone with low self-esteem it sounds like family was a big part of her life before her parents moved to the town she’s in. She also mentions later in the book and I just get this intuitive hunch as well, that other things were going on at home or internally for her that didn’t have to do with school and social life there. She says a couple times that there are things she just can’t say/ admit to herself. I feel that those things are at the core of why she did this, and that many of the reasons were actually the tip of the iceberg. The more traumatic ones towards the end deffinetely are things that probably really pushed her over the edge, the other things I feel were more in the background chipping away at her life and sense of who she was. And then the things unsaid I feel as I said were probably most to blame.

So each person on her list is sent this box of tapes with a map. Each tape is about a specific person with a corresponding place on the map. When Clay, her crush and someone who always wanted to really connect with her but never could gets the tapes he’s stunned and begins to listen to them and follow the map.

He goes through such an intense struggle of emotions and memories of little moments with Hannah, how what he heard about her affected his inability to get closer to her, and how broken he feels that he couldn’t do anything.

I have mixed feelings about the tapes thing. It seemed like the tapes were made over a course of days or at least a week or two. That she wasn’t just sitting down saying things she’d previously written out like an audio suicide note. But rather the tapes were a way for her to sort out her thoughts and let out her feelings in the hopes that people would know exactly what she went through, and in the end feel guilty. You can see her reflecting on things, making new connections and becoming more desperate as she lays things out. The last tape is about her encounter with the only adult she reached out to. Though that ended badly, was there no other time in the course of days making the tapes and processing out loud that she could have reached out for help? It seems like the plan was too, I don’t know, thought out and done over a period of time where though I’ve seen many many people deal with suicidal thoughts/ plans long term I’ve yet to see someone sort of plotting how they’re gonna express this before they’re even sure they’re gonna do anything. Because it wasn’t til the very end that she was sure she was gonna do this. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but somehow the process of making the tapes and map creating this game almost, is just I just don’t believe it there’s something off to me.

So that whole thing actually kind of takes away from the whole story. I think it would have been a more true representation, and I’ve seen other books do this, where it really goes into the places in her head she doesn’t want to, that she feels she can’t speak about. Because as I said I strongly believe that’s at the root of what’s going on. Books that do that, that have a character starting out discussing one thing, only sharing feelings/ thoughts on one level and then being able to dive into deeper pain really have been effective and more believable than this.

Not to say people don’t want to end their life for the reasons she has, like I said I just sense there’s more going on. And that this business of the tapes/ map thing is so unrealistic that it takes away from what actually could be going on.

I’ve just read better books before now around bullying, (empty) which she says is at the heart of things, well along with the bigger traumas which I’m not denying were huge players in this.

I wish there was more abouthow people can reach out/ crisis lines which weren’t mentioned at all in the book.

So no I don’t really recommend this. I think it was good for it’s time, where mental health issues might not have been present in YA books, but it got off track with the tape game and so lost a lot of it’s truth for me.

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