Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
By Jay Asher

This is a story about teen suicide.

More accurately, this is the story about blame and responsibility.

Thirteen Reasons Why is about Hannah Baker, a teen who killed herself, but not before sending out a set of tapes to people who had some part to play in her suicide.  It is narrated from two perspectives: through the content of her audio tapes and through the perspective of Clay, one of the recipients of her tapes. Through their combined stories, we learn about the circumstances leading up to her fatal actions and also the repercussions for those who now have to deal with life after suicide.

I wasn't sure what to think when going into this. I was worried that it would glamorize suicide to young adult readers or make it seem like a decent choice.

I wouldn't say that it glamorized suicide, but I would say that it glamorized those who commit suicide as being eternally mysterious and unattainable and, more troublesome, it glamorized being a victim.

Depression is a serious issue. As are bullying, peer pressure, sexual harassment and violence, etc. And I appreciate any YA text that tries to tackle these issues, but this one missed the mark.

As a teen, I experienced many of these issues, either firsthand or through the experiences of friends. However, Hannah experiences everything firsthand-- everything horrible (or not even that bad but she chooses to roll around in the drama of it) happens to her within a short amount of time. In the last week of her life, she gets in an accident, witnesses a rape, inadvertently is involved with the accidental death of another student, and loses her virginity in pretty awful circumstances.

By far, my main issue with this book is what it says about being a victim. We have this character who is sassy, bold, and unafraid to speak out against sexism, harassment, bullying, etc, but then this same girl allows everyone else and every situation to victimize her. She continually complains that no one saved her. She complains about what everyone else should have done. She cries about people not reaching out.

This from a character who not only witnesses and DOES NOTHING to stop a passed-out peer from being RAPED, but cares nothing for the emotional impact of her tapes or of the possibility of differing perspectives.

She speaks with an empowered voice but eventually commits suicide.

So, her suicide becomes her way of getting attention and making other people feel bad about themselves and their mistakes.

It might sound like I am harboring tension for those who commit suicide. I understand depression and hopelessness, I understand the severity of such feelings, but I also understand the intended audience for this book and what this story suggests.

 Hannah gets power over other people by killing herself. This seems problematic, no?

Why can't she find personal empowerment and succeed in life DESPITE what others have done to her? Why can't she show young readers how temporary high school drama is, how little it matters, how much life and hope there is after you can get out and make an existence of your own? WHY CAN'T SHE SAVE HERSELF???

I wanted her to send these tapes to people she felt had wronged her, but then shown them how little power they really had over her by going on with her life like a champ, not giving up but then feigning any sort of empowerment/strength.

The final message was a good one: think of other people and what they might be going through. But it didn't really show up until the last couple pages. Hannah spends so much time complaining about the people who didn't care about her, yet she shows no regard for anyone. It was obnoxious.

Would I recommend this book? Not really. Do I need to do the cliche: Here's 13 reasons why I do not recommend this book? No, I do not.

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