#27 “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

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  1. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  2. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  3. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  4. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  5. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  6. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  7. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  8. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  9. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  10. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  11. Hades – Candice Fox
  12. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  13. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  14. The Maze Runner – James Dashner
  15. The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
  16. The Death Cure – James Dashner
  17. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby
  18. More Than This – Patrick Ness

There’s a difference between addictive and unputdownable. Well, for me anyway. Hades was addictive. Every time I put it down, it was all I could think about. But I was still able to put it down. I was able to walk away, even though the book still invaded my thoughts.
Thirteen Reasons Why was unputdownable. I picked it up during a break at uni (of course I had to put it down during class. Practise exam!) and had it finished by 12.20AM this morning.

This book was intense. It was probably the most intense thing I’ve ever read. The premise is this: Clay Jensen finds a box full of tapes on his front porch. He starts listening and realises that they  from Hannah Baker, a girl in his class who had committed suicide a few weeks before. These tapes are her note which explains why she did what she did. She gives thirteen reasons: well, thirteen names. Each of these people had wronged her in some way. Clay is one of them. She has two rules:

  1. listen to the tapes
  2. pass them onto the next person on her list, the name that comes after yours on the tapes.

If Clay doesn’t pass them on, the tapes will be released to the general public. If any of the people on Hannah’s list refuses to pass them on, the tapes will be released to the general public.

So Clay listens.

Let’s just stop there for a moment. Can you even imagine what it would be like to listen to someone tell you why they killed themselves after they’ve already done it? To get inside that person’s final days and realise what was truly going on? I can’t. I really can’t. And poor Clay listens to every single tape, having to hear exactly what happened to Hannah from the day she started high school up until the day before she did it. It would be a terrifying, scarring experience. And one that makes Clay a more caring person, a more compassionate person.

I think the most complicated part of this story was its immediacy. We get two stories simultaneously. We get Clay’s and we get Hannah’s. The two are interwoven. It’s like a time-lapse conversation. Hannah will speak for a while (in italics) and then Clay interrupts her story (in normal font) for a sentence or two and then Hannah starts speaking again. Or vice versa. We get Clay’s story and Hannah interrupts. Here’s an example:

Courtney Crimsen. What a pretty name. And yes, a very pretty girl, as well. Pretty hair. Pretty smile. Perfect skin.
And you’re also very nice. Everyone says so.
I stare at the picture in the scribble book. Hannah’s arm around Courtney’s waist at some random party. Hannah is happy. Courtney is nervous. But I have no idea why.
Yes, Courtney, you’re sweet to everyone you meet in the halls. You’re sweet to everyone as they walk with you to your car after school.
I sip my coffee, which is getting cold.
You’re definitely one of the most popular girls in school. And you … are … just … so … sweet. Right?
Wrong.

What this does for the reader is gives us Hannah’s story, which evokes an emotional reaction in us, but we get Clay’s story as well. His reactions to Hannah’s story, his emotions, his actions. It makes the whole thing seem so much more real. Something that is unfolding in front of your eyes; something you can touch.

This story is important. It is so, so important. People overlook YA as a genre, but this story could not have been told in any other genre. High school, particularly American high school it seems,  is hell. I was incredibly lucky. I never realised how lucky I was until I read this book. High school was five years ago for me. Half a decade. And this book brought up some things that I forget about all the time. Things that I probably shouldn’t forget.But, as I said, I was incredibly lucky. Things could have been a lot worse.

Thirteen Reasons Why simply makes you think. It makes your mind tick over and your heart race. My heart was pounding through those last few tapes (Thirteen Reasons Why isn’t broken into chapters, but into which tape Clay is up to at any given time). I flipped through the pages so quickly, trying to absorb everything that I could, because I knew I was holding a valuable literary artefact in my hands.
There’s an interview with Jay Asher, the author, at the end of this book and he gets asked if he wrote this book with a specific message in mind. Here’s his answer:

Basically, even though Hannah admits that the decision to take her life was entirely her own, it’s also important to be aware of how we treat others. Even though someone appears to shrug off a sideways comment or to not be affected by a rumour, it’s impossible to know everything else going on in that person’s life, and how we might be adding to his/her pain. People do have an impact on the lives of others; that’s undeniable.

Hannah’s story focuses on school and the people in it. We know very little about her life outside of school because that part of her isn’t up for discussion. She doesn’t talk about it on the tapes, so Clay doesn’t know. This plays into what Asher says about not knowing about someone’s entire life. We only know what Hannah went through at school. We don’t know what her home life was like. No one does. Or did. It’s like that hackneyed expression: “be kind to everyone you meet because you don’t know what battles they are already fighting”. Or something like that anyway. This book reminds us that everything we do affects everyone around us.

It also drives home the importance of helping others. There are opportunities throughout the book where someone could have reached out to Hannah, but no one does. Clay is wracked with guilt over his decision to walk away when Hannah asked him to instead of helping her through her tears. Asher never makes the claim that if someone had helped Hannah, she may not have committed suicide, but if someone had tried things might have ended differently.

29b3e23In Australia we had this thing called RUOK? Day. Essentially it’s a day, run by BeyondBlue, where you’re supposed to ask the people around you, close or not, if they’re OK and really mean it. Who knows? Maybe someone really just needs to talk and you’re giving them that opportunity. Sometimes all people need is a hand to hold and an ear to listen.
This day kept coming to mind as I devoured this book. Someone needed to talk to Hannah. And Clay did. But Clay left. He was asked to, and he didn’t want to impose, but someone had to stay.

Suicide is terrible. But the reasons for suicide are so vast and varied that no one can really point fingers. What Hannah does is name catalysts. Would someone else have reacted the same way in Hannah’s situation? No one can answer that. There is no right or wrong answer. Bottom line, Hannah needed help. Just like the 800,000 people each year who commit suicide needed help. This book opens a dialogue between people: people like Hannah and people like Clay.

You will not enjoy this book. It’s too dark to be enjoyed. But you will be enthralled. You will need to flip the pages as fast as you can to understand Hannah, to understand the people on her list, and to understand Clay.

If you see yourself in Hannah, or can relate Hannah’s actions to someone you know, then please call someone. Anyone. There’s no point giving numbers here, because you guys come from all over, but you know the right numbers to call. Or Google does.

If someone needs your help, please give it. You never know whether your hug, or your asking if that person is OK, is the thing that stops that person from ending their lives.

★★★★★

You can actually listen to Hannah’s tapes. They’ve all been uploaded onto YouTube. Here’s the first one:

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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6 Responses to #27 “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

  1. Fantastic review Bec, this book sounds so darn emotional but you are right, it’s a relevant story that I’m glad has gotten traction out there. I’m really glad we have RUOK day too, because you just never really know.

    • Bec Graham says:

      Thanks so much! It is super emotional, but mental illness and suicide are things I’m really passionate about. I will spruik this book until the cows come home. Awareness is so important.

      RUOK Day should be worldwide, if it isn’t already. Too many people are suffering in silence

  2. Deborah says:

    Oh you’ve hooked me. I really really want to read this now. Like really!

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