03 April 2009

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The story of Hannah Baker's short life will stick with you for a long time. Told in Hannah's own voice as if recorded on thirteen sides of cassette tapes and counterbalanced by the thoughts and perspective of her classmate Clay Jensen, Thirteen Reasons Why is sometimes almost painful to read. If you've been to high school, you should be able to relate to the book on some level.

In short, Hannah Baker, high school senior, commits suicide, but not before laying out her reasons and placing blame. What makes the book so difficult is that not everyone whom Hannah blames was purposefully mean. Sure, there were some jerks, but some of the culprits were simply clueless or shy or too unsure of themselves to do much to help out a friend.

Asher drives home the idea that one's words and actions have consequences—sometimes far beyond what could be anticipated. Although I believe we must take responsibility for our actions and that one is never too young to learn that lesson, I wonder how teenagers might react to this book. Would it be frightening to think that you could be a genuinely nice person and still be able to play a role in the tragic death of a young girl?

I'm also struck by the fact that Hannah's parents seem to have left her on her own quite a bit. They go out of town leaving her by herself in the house; they let her house-sit alone for a neighbor. What effect did the parents have on their daughter and her downward spiral? Did they talk to her? Hannah hides typical teenage activities from her parents, and this is normal. But I think most kids would tell their parents about several of the situations in which Hannah found herself. Why wasn't Hannah able to seek help from her mother and father? And why weren't her parents highlighted on her blame list?

The book emphasizes some of the signs of impending suicide, and I would like to think that at least one reader might learn enough from the novel to help someone in need.

The voices of the teenagers seemed real enough to me that I was immersed in the world of the town of Crestmont, and the map printed on the back side of the book cover added to this effect. I was pleased that not every parent and adult in the story was neglectful and that not every kid was mean and selfish. But high school can be a psychological nightmare, and Asher doesn't back away from that reality.

I both listened to and read the book. The novel was well suited to a double-narrator production. Debra Wiseman read Hannah's tapes and Joel Johnstone read the part of Clay. Each created a believable, emotional teenager. I think the impact of the story was heighten by listening to the "tapes" in the same manner in which Clay would have been listening. The writing and concepts, however, were better suited to print. The combination worked well for me.

Published by Penguin Group (USA), 2007
ISBN-13: 9781595141712
Challenges: A-Z Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, New Author, Audiobook, Spring Reading, 100+
YTD: 27
Rating: A

Links to Other Reviews
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Julie P. 4/3/09, 7:58 AM  

I agree that this was a really powerful book. I'm posting my review on Sunday!

Meghan 4/3/09, 8:21 AM  

I also found this book to be really striking and painful at times. High school was not all that long ago for me, regardless of how it feels, and this book brought back a lot of the anxiety and insecurity that goes along with being a teenager. You raise a lot of interesting questions, I'll have to think of some of my own!

Nely 4/3/09, 8:57 AM  

I have been really wanting to read this book I've read some good things about it. Great review.

bermudaonion 4/3/09, 10:22 AM  

I wondered why she didn't mention her parents in the tapes because I felt like they had a role in it. My review will be up on Sunday too.

gautami tripathy 4/3/09, 11:08 AM  

I had loved this book. Powerful and hard hitting.

Here is my review:

Thirteen Reasons Why

Molly 4/3/09, 11:44 AM  

I have had this book on hold at the library for about 6 weeks now and hoping that I am at the top of the list by the 24 hour read-a-thon.

Margot 4/3/09, 2:48 PM  

A tough topic but one that shouldn't be hidden away. That time in a person's life can be so painful but we all have to pass through it. My oldest daughter had a high school classmate commit suicide at the school and it affected all of them for a long time.

I hope it was written in such a way that young people are drawn to it, or at least the right young people. And it could be a good conversation started. I'm going to find a copy. Thanks.

Anonymous,  4/3/09, 3:06 PM  

This is already on my my list and I really look forward to reading it. GReat review!

Amy 4/3/09, 3:16 PM  

loved this one! so thought provoking...

Ana S. 4/3/09, 3:27 PM  

I've been meaning to get this book for a while now. It sounds painful, but more than worth reading. I really enjoyed your review. That's interesting that she didn't think her parents were much to blame...maybe she felt so emotionally distant from them she didn't think they could have helped? I'll keep these questions in mind when I read the book.

Anonymous,  4/3/09, 5:08 PM  

this book sounds really good. i work in a private high school and deal with teenagers on a daily basis. it can be rough out there. i'm going to check this out and see if it would be appropriate as a trade novel for my kids.

Sandy Nawrot 4/3/09, 7:56 PM  

I've seen this review before, and it scared me half to death. I have an 11-year-old daughter, and am hyper-aware of the stresses they are faced with. I applaud books like this, because it makes all of us parents realize that we must reach out to our kids that seem to want nothing to do with us. I doubt if I will read it though. It would give me nightmares!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 4/3/09, 8:54 PM  

I'm glad that this is a good one. I picked up a copy a couple of months ago and as the story goes I haven't gotten around to it yet. I have to see if I can fast track it.

Literary Feline 4/3/09, 11:40 PM  

It would be interesting to read and listen to a book at the same time. I am glad it worked out well for this particular book. I have been reading reviews of this one for a little while now, and I just become more interested in it the more I read about it. Great review, Beth.

S. Krishna 4/4/09, 11:28 AM  

This was a great book, and you reviewed it incredibly well. I think you highlighted a lot of the thoughts going through my head as I was reading it. In some ways, I just don't know what to think! Either way, Asher did an incredible job with this book. Wonderful review!

Jenners 4/4/09, 10:31 PM  

This sounds intriguing to me. I don't know why, but books about suicide always interest me. I guess because I just can imagine feeling that way and it is a glimpse into something so scary and sad.

Ladytink_534 4/4/09, 11:57 PM  

This sounds very sad but I think it would be a great audiobook nonetheless.

Natasha @ Maw Books 4/5/09, 3:12 AM  

I liked this book but there were some things that bugged me about it. It's kind of hard to put my finger on it, but I felt like the people that she blamed weren't at fault as much as Asher would like to think they were. I'm really still thinking about it. My opinion really isn't formed all the way yet. Listening to it on audio would make for an interesting experience!

Wendi 4/5/09, 1:42 PM  

What a great review. I had no idea that was what this book was about. I know that many kids really suffer through junior high because of what other kids say and do. Interesting book!

~ Wendi

Melody 4/6/09, 3:07 AM  

Thanks for the great review, Beth! I wanted to read this book ever since I've seen it circulating around the blogosphere and after reading your review has definitely made me add this book to my wishlist!

Michelle 4/6/09, 3:28 PM  

I have had my eye on this book for a while now. I enjoyed your review, sounds like something I need to move up that infinite TBR stack...

LibraryDoggies 11/15/09, 10:01 PM  

I was blown away by this book. Read it one sitting. I'd like to suggest another book that I think would pair well with it. 'Destroying Avalon' by Kate McCaffrey. It is about cyber bullying and would appeal to readers 11+.

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