Hannah Baker dies. Suicide. Two weeks later, Clay Jensen finds a parcel sitting on his doorstep. And in it… Hannah’s voice. Thirteen tapes. Thirteen reasons why Hannah killed herself. Thirteen people are to blame. And Clay is one of them.
Let me start off by saying this book was lovely, but depressing. Heading into it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it–it was, after all, a book about a teenage girl’s suicide. Looking back, I think it was just simply that.
It is the story of Clay Jensen listening to the story of Hannah Baker, his crush–the girl who committed suicide.
It is a tale, with a enlightening and disturbing moral: Watch your actions carefully. Even the slightest thing, even the most careless action, could make someone take their own life.
TH1NGS 1 L1K3D
One thing I’d have to say is that this is not even a slightly funny book. Looking back, I tried to come up with a moment that might have even made me smile. I found none. Even when Hannah was sarcastic, I knew the end result–and that just made me feel like I shouldn’t get too attached to her. I found this to be a good thing in a book dealing with suicide–when Hannah joked about her death, it was sickening and disturbing. I didn’t want it to be funny, because suicide and death aren’t funny things. They’re serious matters, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I loved that Clay was a sort of “bland” character. A good guy who never lies to his mom and is about to become valedictorian. This lets the reader become Clay, in a way. As Clay listened to the story and we heard his reactions, I found myself agreeing with him, too. The things he found disturbing, I found disturbing. When he was shocked, so was I. The fact that the book was an interaction between Hannah and Clay–Hannah’s narration and Clay’s reflection on it–made it richer and more powerful. When we first meet Hannah, all we feel for her is pity. But with Clay’s thoughts, we get to know Hannah better, the Hannah she really was, and not just the Hannah the rumors say she is.
One thing I loved was that the novel addressed the concept of peer pressure and problems from peers. Hannah faces problems from her peers throughout the book, and it eventually kills her. While the book doesn’t preach morals, it teaches us that our words and actions matter, and can lead to a bigger, cumulative event.
I found Hannah to be very well-characterized, albeit a character with low self-esteem, making her seem “weak”. Rumors are something most people face in high school, and although many people feel like they do not have friends at some point in their lives, not all of them kill themselves. The fact that her peers affected her to such a degree that she felt the need to kill herself speaks volumes about Hannah. It tells us she doesn’t see that the future could be different from her high school years; it tells us that she doesn’t understand that rumors are just rumors. Even though Hannah knows most of the rumors about her are wrong, she chooses to be hurt by false words, rather than be kept strong and alive by what she knows to be true.
I liked the fact that Hannah forces Clay and the other twelve people to go through the entire tapes, with a threat to them if they did not finish them. The threat acted upon the reader, as well, so we feel compelled to finish reading through all 13 tapes.
Personally, I enjoyed having a pessimistic main character. Clay is very optimistic-and-bright; he’s sort of a Mr. Perfect type of character. I think most readers identified more with Clay’s voice because a large quantity of people classify themselves as optimists. However, I found myself drawn to Hannah’s voice, because she was a pessimistic, female protagonist, quite like some of the characters I have written. It certainly made a change from the typical cynical male protagonist and the bright-and-jolly female protagonist that are often featured in books. In this aspect, Hannah’s voice was unique. But honestly, it wasn’t worth it–speaking from the character perspective, I wanted the best for Hannah, just as I wanted the best for every protagonist in (almost) every book I’ve read. From that standpoint, I would rather have had an optimistic protagonist that lived than a pessimistic protagonist that died.
TH1NGS 1 D1DN’T L1K3
At the beginning of the book, Hannah says, “When you’re done listening to all thirteen sides–because there are thirteen sides to every story–rewind the tapes, put them back in the box, and pass them on to whoever follows your little tale. And you, lucky number thirteen, you can take the tapes straight to hell. Depending on your religion, maybe I’ll see you there.” (pg. 9) This creates a little bit of suspense–is Clay the thirteenth person? Where does he come into the story?
The problem is, the very first scene of the book is Clay shipping the tapes off, so we already know he isn’t the thirteenth person. This kills some of the initial suspense. There are too many characters who drift in and out, without adding much depth or complexity to the story–while the title required thirteen stories, thirteen reasons wasn’t necessary to get Hannah’s feelings across. In addition, I often found myself confused between Clay’s and Hannah’s points of view–while the commentary was necessary, the two voices weren’t different enough. Although I felt I knew Hannah better than Clay by the end of the book, it felt like she was recording the tapes just to make the people who hurt her feel guilty–especially Clay (I would say more, but no spoilers!).
All in all, I enjoyed the book. I would recommend it to you if you are okay with strong, sometimes disturbing, and dark topics, such as suicide and depression. While the book was a compelling read, it was not emotional–I steeled myself for a main character’s death from the moment I picked it up, because Hannah’s suicide was revealed on the back cover. Although I didn’t like some aspects of the book, I found it to be an interesting read, which I enjoyed and will definitely be keeping on my bookshelf. I found Hannah’s voice unique–perhaps because I have never read a book focusing on a main character contemplating suicide–but I found it to be on the plus side nonetheless.
Overall, I absolutely LOVED and agreed with the themes and ideas of this book. Teens (or anyone else!) should never, ever be driven to take their own life. Please, consider your actions before you take them. They could be simple jokes, but could end up having implications far beyond your knowledge.
Thirteen Reasons Why is available to buy on Amazon for $6.72 (Paperback Edition) with additional shipping for non-Prime members.