Thirteen Reasons Why – A Review

If you haven’t read “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, you should go read it now. I stayed up all night because I could not put it down. I actually read a review about the book, found out it was going to be on paperback on June 14, and just a couple days later went and bought it. That’s how much the review stayed with me.

I occasionally write these book reviews even though they have nothing to do with the way my blog is set up, but I write them because I really care. I’ve read other books (most of them by Malcolm Gladwell this year) but I’ve never felt compelled to write about them. The last fiction I’ve read was “The Book Thief” and I give a nod to javabeans for being the one who finally convinced me to read it. “Thirteen Reasons Why” is just one more book that I have to write something about.

It’s a young adult book, but only because the characters are young adult. I don’t think the book or its message is particularly aimed for young adults.

It’s about a girl who commits suicide and sends tapes to the thirteen people who caused her to go over the edge and kill herself. Her tapes narrate her path to death, and it’s interwoven with Clay Jensen’s narrative as he listens to the tapes and understands, and feels guilty, why the girl he had a crush on killed herself.

On a certain level I do think the girl (Hannah Baker) might have been overreacting and had she the right support system or the right mentality before all this happened, she might not have ended up dead. However, it is acknowledged in the book that we do not know what other incidents occurred in her life, what other troubles helped propel her further towards depression and suicide. Therefore, to a certain extent, her actions were justified, and especially more so when you put it in the context of being a high school student where life’s problems are much more magnified.

I really enjoyed this book because for a thriller, you already know the ending and yet it manages to build suspense in every chapter. You have that same need as Clay to know what happens next, to know whose name will appear next, and to understand why she did what she did. It’s a brilliantly simple story, and yet, it manages to pull you in deep.

The immediate lesson from the book is to always reach out, and recognize those who are in need or think of suicide. Another lesson is to stop school bullying. I personally don’t think you can stop school bullying, and I am of the side that a little teasing (not bullying) doesn’t hurt. But it’s how you handle the teasing, and what you make of it, that is more important. Stand up and fight back to bullies if the time comes and if it’s necessary, but also know how to take a joke and not let labels or prejudices become you. I think that’s the most frustrating thing about Hannah Baker for me; based on what we know of her in the book I feel like she put too much credence into what others thought of her. She was someone who had several good opportunities to fight back, but she didn’t.

(On a bit of a different trajectory – I think it can be said similarly that if you let your Asian race be the reason or the excuse of your inability to rise, you just allowed a stereotype to become you, and you created your own “bamboo ceiling.” Same to be applied with your gender.)

Back to the book – what struck me to the core, and resonates most with me, is this simple lesson:

Words can hurt, no matter how you relay – or don’t relay – them. 

It’s amazing how a little encouragement goes a long way for someone like Hannah Baker, and how just one stupid brag can hurt her. I’m a known chatterbox with a very bad filter, but this book is certainly going to make me shut my mouth more. Certain things can be shared, certain things should just be kept to myself.

It also amazed me how one’s shyness can create such an impediment; not speaking up is just as bad as speaking too much to the point of lying. Had Clay Jensen admitted he liked Hannah Baker earlier, or spoke to her more often, it is likely he could have reached out to her and helped her before she closed herself off from the world.

Maybe some of you know why this lesson is so profound for me, but I don’t wish to rehash the topic. I’ll just say an incident bothered me greatly in the sense that it made me think about words, society, effect, meaning – that sort of philosophical thinking. Unless you believe the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” in its simplest sense, I don’t believe it’s true. However, I’m not going to let those words just stop me from doing what I want, and I wish it didn’t stop Hannah from doing what she wanted.

You should also check out the author’s blog, if only to see the different covers for every language it has been released in. I think it’s so cool and telling of each country’s culture to see how they depicted a hurt girl on the path of depression.

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