Monday, June 4, 2012

Thirteen Reasons Why - a review

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher
304 pages

I hate myself for not reading book cover jackets. I really do. I sometimes skip entire reviews because I don't want to know what the book is about. This mind boggling condition has screwed me into reading several books with serious topics, and it never occurs to me that hey, this book could be about a serious topic.

Book jackets really ruin a lot of things. If the book jacket to Thirteen Reasons Why isn't read: you'll soon discover that it's about you-know-what-a-cide. It's a heavy topic book and not a lot of fun. It's about Hannah. Who mails out some tapes with thirteen people listed on them. Thirteen people who caused Hannah's life to be horrid. Clay receives these tapes. He spends his night listening to them. He's on the list, although he doesn't know why, because he's Hannah's crush.

The view point alternates between Clay and Hannah as Clay retraces Hannah's steps around their little town. What went wrong in Hannah's life? Why did Hannah take the you-know-what-a-cide route? Jay Asher doesn't really give us big reasons why Hannah decided to end-her-life-a-cide. He gives us small reasons that ultimately end up being big reasons. He calls it a "snowball effect".*

This book is more about social pressure and the large amount of it teens face every day. The pressure to conform. The pressure of your own reputation. The pressure to be perfect. The pressure to fit in. The pressure to be cool. Etc. Jay Asher leads us through a few of those motions. He does an okay job of it.

There aren't many reasons for me to not like Thirteen Reasons Why. It's a heavy topic book, but sometimes I read those and enjoy the message. Sometimes, though, there's a problem. Hannah was my problem this time.

Hannah's voice--the one coming through the tape deck--came across as nothing but angry. She was never solemn. She was never reserved. Although I am certain Jay Asher wrote some of her dialogue as quiet and reserved and contemplative; it never comes across that way. She. Just. Sounds. Pissed.

Which is fine. If what happened to Hannah happened to me I'd be just as pissed. Unfortunately the anger coming from Hannah comes out as much more revenging angel than it does distressed teen. It tends to--and here I come being controversial--glorify Hannah's story. Like a "Ha ha. I got you now you fuckers."

This is not a good idea. The social pressure? Acceptable. The tapes being passed from one person to another? I can find that semi-believable. Hannah's reasons for you know? Alright. Her anger? Justifiable. The message? Muddled.

It took me seven days to finish Thirteen Reasons Why. I kept picking it up and putting it down. I kept getting bothered by it but I couldn't figure out why. It finally dawned on me this morning--after I already had another review ready--that it's because of Hannah; her voice just isn't a good one.

The book's message might get lost in Hannah's angry voice but it's still there. And I'll still be thinking about Thirteen Reasons Why next week. Which is the point of a heavy topic book; I got the message, even if it was muddled.

*Or is it affect? I always get confused by the use of this word.
Side note: I also found out that I can't remember how to spell "thirteen" half the time.
Full Disclosure: I purchased this at Half-Priced Books.


  1. Thanks for the review. I think I will skip this one. are correct. It is effect :)

    1. You're welcome. I just couldn't get behind it.

      Glad to know! I'm paranoid about that one. I can never remember.

  2. I am the same way about reading the book jackets. I prefer to go into a book knowing as little about it as possible. Same goes for movies. Trailers often give away important details.

    And as Jacque says, you're right about effect. Affect is a verb, effect is a noun. Nonetheless, I always second guess myself when I use either of these words as well.

    1. I recently saw a movie trailer for some scifi movie. I feel like I never have to watch it now.

      Good! I get so paranoid sometimes. I actually Googled it and was still confused.

  3. For months, people have been telling me that I absolutely have to read this book. They told me it was really good and I would love it. I did not. I tried, but I just couldn't get into it. I think it was probably Hannah's voice that did me in too. Also, I couldn't quite believe that someone would take the time to make all those tapes before they commit the "you-know-what-a-cide." What do I know? Maybe that really happens. I also had no interest in committing myself to a book that cannot possibly have a happy ending.

    Maybe your next WTFF can be about why people tell you you're going to love a book but it ends up being terrible.

    1. Ugh. Her voice. It's just so angry. And I know she's suppose to be upset and everything but it just comes across as bitchy teenager ala Mean Girls style. I couldn't handle it.

      My WTFF list is ever expanding. Trust me. This is going on there at some point.

  4. I read a blog post once where the person reading the book had similar feelings about Hannah. I remember being a little bit shocked because not long before then I remember it being read as an ARC and being hyped like crazy, 5 stars everywhere.

    I can't read this right now for sure. Maybe one day far in the future. Maybe. Dragons and swords probably instead, though. Thank you kindly for reading it so I don't have to!

    1. Link to the blog post? Link to the blog post? I like it when people agree with me!

      I saw that it had been hyped before. I sometimes read the Amazon reviews after reading the book and writing my own, and a few of those... maybe it was the only book they read this year.

      I would skip it for right now. It's not an Asheley book.


      There you go.

      "It's not an Asheley book." --> Yes, that is exactly what I need to know. Whether or not a book is an Asheley book or not. I give you permission to use that phrase from now on!

      In light of recent events, I've had to rearrange some of my contemps lineup anyway. So thank you.

      :) :) :) more smilies

    3. Also, sidenote, it's weird about the amazon reviews because they can be absolutely leaning one way and the goodreads reviews can be absolutely leaning another way - over the same book. I've seen where you mention reading amazon reviews before several times, but I pretty much always use goodreads reviews for my decisions. Not important, just interesting.

    4. I find that Amazon reviews are childish. There's always a few okay ones, but for the most part people are too quick to give it five stars without thinking about it first.

  5. I haven't tackled this book, although it has won awards and stars and I've been meaning to read it. What troubles me about the premise (and perhaps reading it would ease my worries) is how complicated depression is, and I wonder whether the idea that the actions of 13 people can lead you to commit suicide may be too simplistic (or even medically wrong). Maybe Asher does a wonderful job of showing that Hannah already has a serious clinical condition, and that the behavior of her classmates somehow exacerbates that until she's gravely ill, and she doesn't have a healthy support structure around her in which adults see and intervene, but sheesh it would have to be delicately, expertly handled not to unravel into a poorly-supported "don't bully because you never know when THIS might happen" message that diminishes the real medical condition of depression. What say you to this worry, master Adam?

    1. I did not mention depression in this review because in my mind Hannah experienced zero. There is no depression here. Is she lonely? Sure. Does she ache with loneliness? No. Her isolation isn't even played up to the full extent that it could've been. This is just poor narration on Jay Asher's part. Had this book been "just Hannah" and no Clay--had we not alternated between them--we would've understood Hannah more. Instead we get a monologue from a teenage girl--interrupted constantly by a teenage boy--about how a guy slipped a hand up her dress, or how she doesn't have any friends, and "fuck you I'm offing myself because of you".

      It's very dangerous, this book. The way it's played is that Hannah has no psychological issues. She has no depression. She's socially awkward and a little isolated and some bad stuff happens to her. There's a failure at the adult level and the friend level to help her, yes. But help her from what? If those things were written into the book then I missed them, and I am very careful reader. So I can only assume that this is a failure on Jay Asher's part, not mine.

      Unfortunately, and this will sound terrible, the thirteen reasons are not good ones. Hannah's sense of logic and thought are warped. And not from any psychological standpoint that's written into the book. She's "just that way". I'm sorry, that's not a good excuse to have a suicidal character. While there are people who are "just that way" in a clinical sense, it's made clear that Hannah isn't one of them.

      In all seriousness, this book doesn't deserve any kind of five star rating. It doesn't deserve any kind of award. I could sit here and name three other books that deal with this topic and do it better.

      The only thing that really saved this book from one star is that the way the story is told is unique. That's all. This book was not handled well.

      Also. The book cover pisses me off because it's trying to be profound but it's actually really fucking dumb.

      (the more I think about this book the more I don't like it).

  6. It is an 'e' in that kind of effect. And I should know; I have a 1000 page grammar textbook in school.
    I have never quite plucked up the courage for this book, and after reading your review I think it's going to stay that way.

    1. Thank you.

      I'd say avoid it. Read your grammar text book instead, I need more to help me with my spelling.

  7. I bought this a long time ago and regreted it the second I got to my house, took it out of the bag and realized it was about you-know-what-a-cide. Not interested in the angry tapes a girl left to get back on her bullies.

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