Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Maybe it’s because this was the second young adult book about teen suicide I’ve read in a row, and the last one was fantastic and so believably captured teenage life and death even while being about a mystical Groundhog Day-like experience, but 13 Reasons Why wasn’t spectacular.
13 Reasons Why is the story of a high school boy who receives a package of cassette tapes in the mail (this is set in 2011) and discovers they contain the voice of a girl at his school who had just committed suicide in the days before. On the tapes, she narrates the story of her own impending death, and explains her reasons. While the events leading up to her suicide seem like a completely plausible chain of events that could provoke a teen to kill themselves, Hannah’s style of speaking and level of self-reflection does not seem like the teenage experience at all. Hannah, and the other characters as well, are teenagers, but with adult voices and outlooks. The story idea is interesting, but people write so much better than someone speaks, so it’s hard to get drawn into this inauthentic world.
Even the theme of teen suicide isn’t especially poignant. With Hannah speaking on the tapes and Clay listening and responding to her, she is essentially a living character, and her suicide becomes overshadowed and nearly forgotten – I half expected her to turn up alive at the end. 13 Reasons Why was still an enjoyable read, but its potential was snuffed out far too early.
Clay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her. Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes – and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death. All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his small town … and what he discovers changes his life forever.