A Review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
After knocking out this book in one sitting, I had a lot of different emotions running through me, the most prominent ones being anger and frustration. I wish I could like this book as much as some of my other friends (particularly Val and Christina) but I just didn’t. My experience with both suicide and high school students kept that from happening.
I won’t claim that I’m an expert on either of the two topics, but being the type of high school teacher that I am, I’ve become way more familiar with students’ lives than others. I’ve had to learn to be strong for my students, even when I am having a hard time myself processing/coping with what just happened. Hospitalizations, panic attacks, cyberbullying, cutting, drug overdoses, suicides. I wish both my students and I never had to experience these, but that’s not the reality teens face nowadays. So, this book left me angry and frustrated because the story just didn’t ring true.
For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. Hannah Baker recently committed suicide, and Clay receives cassette tapes of Hannah explaining how thirteen people are responsible for her death, and he’s one of them. But her reasons don’t make sense to me. I’m not saying that there are “right reasons” to commit suicide, but a bad reputation from a few unfortunate situations doesn’t lead someone to the point of absolute desperation, hopelessness, and despair that will bring some to commit such a final fatal act, especially in a premeditated manner like Hannah.
I also think that, because we as readers don’t really know Hannah outside of the tapes, she just comes off as a whiny, vindictive, naive teenager. Maybe if we had gotten to know how she was beforehand I would have had a little more sympathy and compassion, but I was so frustrated by her lack of perspective in all the circumstances she found herself in. True, she did have bad reactions from others when she reached out for help, but I found those reactions so hard to believe, and it didn’t really seem like she wanted the help anyways. From what I’ve seen in the high school I work at, when students reach out for help, teachers, counselors, social workers…we all come together to do what we can to help our student because we care. “Cry for help” behaviors don’t fly under the radar either. That may not always be the case, but what happens in this book is certainly not the norm.
Basically, the main reason I didn’t like this book is that the motives and behaviors of many of the characters (especially Hannah) didn’t match up at all to what I know as high school reality. I will say, however, that I did like Clay. His reactions are very real, occasionally humorous, and almost made up for my dislike of our other main character. The format and premise were also enjoyable, and made for a very quick, engaging reading experience. I guess the pros and cons sort of cancel out, so I’ll rate this a..