Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Happily, this book is fiction so I don't have to feel guilty about not liking a story that deals with a suicide victim.  Hannah Baker is a high school student who is having a very hard time adjusting to teen aged life.  While all parties in the book, and surely those reading as well, can agree that suicide is never the answer it was very hard for me to feel moved to pity on her behalf. 

Clay Jensen is the latest recipient of Hannah's tapes in which she has recorded the reasons that led up to her taking her life.  There is a back up copy of these tapes that Hannah claims will 'get out' and be made public (by means never truly made clear) should each of her intended listeners not listen to them and then pass them along.  (I was also never clear as to why she wouldn't want this tapes made public considering she'd have a chance to come clean about so much without any repercussion to herself.)  She calls people out, she does a bit of ranting, she exposes some horrible things that she was privy to that the general public doesn't know about.  Clay has no idea why he is on the tapes; and curiosity is his primary reasons for bumbling around town listening to all that Hannah has to say.

The book contains two narratives; each constantly interrupts the other.  Every time we get into a steady stream of Hannah's anecdotes we are told what Clay is doing as if only to make sure we don't forget that Hannah is telling this story from the grave and that Clay is doing other stuff.  Sometimes we are interrupted once a page; sometimes ten times a page.  It got annoying very fast.  It was a hiccup, or super esoteric punctuation, or wearing shoes three sizes too big and being told to run a 5K without ever stumbling.  That said, the story flies by.  Clay hunts down a cassette player then proceeds to play, pause and stop his way through Hannah's thirteen tapes.  I was initially gonna pass on leaving comments on this book as I felt it was the first young adult fiction I read that I wasn't able to connect with and I thought that lack of connection was solely because of my age difference in comparison to the 'intended' audience.

Most of Hannah's complaints are about people's treatment of her, or neglect--intentional or otherwise--of certain issues.  These topics range from gossip, a who's hot and who's not list, to her first kiss.  It all felt so superficial and pouting more than once I turned on my admonishing Holden Caulfield voice and sad, "Get over yourself.  Take your Prozac and stop whining."  

I cut Hannah more than just some slack when I learned she was sexually harassed.  Perhaps it was the cumulative effect of all that she had been through that finally made her mindset interesting to me by the time she witnessed or as she would say 'enabled' another student to be raped.  The book didn't necessarily get interesting as events grew darker, but the truly traumatic moments happen so late in the book with no feeling of build up or climax that getting to the 'good stuff' was an exercise in patience.  

My real problem with this book was Clay.  On the tape that Hannah has dedicated to him she explicitly says, 'You don't deserve to be on these tapes.'  Clay is a nerd.  He studies on weekends and doesn't go to parties he's excited about being valedictorian.  He's had a crush on Hannah and never the balls to tell her so.  Not only is he boring and one-dimensional but I never saw a single reason as to why he would be interested in a girl like Hannah considering the people she associated with; friends or not.  Of all the people on the tapes, Clay is without doubt the weakest choice for the story's living narrator.  He's likable and he's nice.  He's also kinda boring.  While many of the other people on the tapes were manipulative bitches or outright sexually aggressive creeps and while readers might not have liked those choices as I'm sure most did Clay, seeing things and hearing Hannah's voice play through anyone else mentioned on the tapes' head may have made for a much more compelling (perhaps even more disturbing) read.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a great idea, a really unique presentation and story mechanic; added to which everything works.  But considering the lowest points that led up to Hannah taking her life and how universally awful they were I can think of at least "Nine Reasons" she never would have dwelt on long enough to record on tape in the first place.  A fine writer and certainly one to watch.  All in all a good book and one that even manages to feel original.         

1 comment:

Marlene Detierro said...

Any book that can make me feel so much emotion is a great book. I felt empty and depressed and longed for a better explanation at the end, which are all the signs of a good book.

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