There are thirteen reasons why your friend died. You are one of them.
I thought this book would be about someone who felt guilty about their friend’s death and had to work through it somehow. Imagine my surprise when, on the first page, I realize it’s a story about suicide, and the thirteen reasons why a teenage girl decided to end her life. Whoopee! So a pick-me-up inspirational tale this was not, but the premise was still interesting, so I read on. (Here’s to reading the synopsis first, people.)
Hannah Baker died two weeks before a set of tapes arrives at the door of Clay Jensen’s home. Upon listening, he soon discovers the tapes to be Hannah’s last words to thirteen carefully-selected individuals whom she faults, in small and big ways, for pushing her toward suicide. Each tape contains a story directed at one person. The tapes are meant to be sent to each person, in order, at the risk of having them go public – which could reveal a lot of potentially damaging secrets. The story follows Clay’s crazy all-nighter listening to the tapes in succession, trying to get to the bottom of why he’s included on the list, and what happened to drive Hannah to her decision.
I have a few problems with this book. It was well-written and crafted, yes. Asher was pretty sneaky about turning Clay’s desire to get through the tapes as quickly as possible into the reader’s wanting to do the same with the book. But the fact of the matter is, no suicide note is this well thought out, or this long in the making. I hate to invalidate poor Hannah any more than she already was in the book, but her situation and her way of dealing with it didn’t seem feasible to me at times. Still, I don’t pretend to be some sort of expert on this, so maybe I’m all wrong. What I can say is this: get past the unbelievable aspects of the book, get past the vindictiveness in the nature of the tapes, and you have a raw, real and very personal glimpse into the hell that can be high school. Bullying is powerful, whether it be rumours or outright assault. Despite my initial reaction to her, my heart went out to Hannah, and with it, all the girls and boys who have ever felt like her. This book absolutely tore my heart out, exposing all the little things we do – and don’t do – that can snowball, catapulting a life into a totally different course. It was dark, but it ended with the faintest glimmer of hope, and a message that can’t be forgotten: reach out. Reach out! If you need help, ask for it, and be direct. If you see someone hurting or in need, do something. Give someone a reason to live – one little thing could go a long way.
To learn more about the book, its author, and its reactions, see the website here.