Thirteen Reasons Why — Review

July 14, 2013

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why offers a window into a teenaged world affected by suicide. Clay receives a shoebox of cassette tapes. When he presses play, he hears Hannah Baker from beyond the grave and she says that he is on the list — the list of people whose actions have in some way contributed to her suicide. One side of each tape in the shoebox is another person’s story and once you’ve listened to all the tapes, you pass the shoebox on to whoever is after you on the list. These are Hannah’s rules.

We follow Clay as he listens to all thirteen stories — as he goes through the grieving process and tries to understand and how even with these reasons, it doesn’t feel like enough.

I’m left with mixed feelings about this book. I do think that depression, mental health, and suicide are important subjects that should be discussed in teen literature, but it is necessarily a touchy subject. Throughout Thirteen Reasons Why Asher sprinkles in allusions to warning signs to look for, but in many ways I feel like this book places too much of an emphasis on other people. Even in Hannah’s few attempts to reach out for help, we’re seeing more of the other people than her. (Almost) all of the stories are about what other people did and not how she reacted or really felt about these actions. She’s passing judgement from on high and condemning people, yet never really getting to the heart of the matter.

The redeeming moments come in some of the parts where Hannah does manage to reach out, or in Clay’s reactions to the information Hannah is sharing. Thirteen Reasons Why barely scratches the surface when it comes to showing how a suicide can shatter a community, but it does a good job of showing how it can shake an individual.

I would certainly recommend this book, especially to facilitate dialogue (the edition I had from the library even included a short interview with Jay Asher and a list of group discussion questions), but as with everything, readers should be aware that while it can increase awareness, this book by itself does not necessarily provide a comprehensive view of mental illness and teen suicide. It is, though,  a good place to start.

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