Book Reviews, Hatchet Jobs
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Book Review – Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why comprises seven cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a troubled high school student, and received by Clay Jensen, a classmate who has a crush on her. The cassette tapes tell the story of her suicide. These are sent and passed along a number of people whom Hannah thinks has a part in her decision to end her life. Each side of the tape is labeled with a number, except for the B-side of the seventh cassette, and focuses on a particular person who caused an incident contributing to the snowball of events that led to Hannah’s end.

The novel is structured as if the reader were holding a Walkman instead of a book. The chapter titles are labeled according to the cassette number and side (Cassette 1: Side A, Cassette 1: Side B, and so on) that Clay is listening to. There are two running narratives as each cassette is wound: Hannah’s story and Clay’s reactions to her story. I would usually give a nod to such a form. It’s creative and one has to laud the author for such ingenuity. However, the narratives clash against each other and therefore, it didn’t work for me. There are many times when Clay’s thoughts serve as mere barricades that I am tempted to gloss over.

Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo.

I don’t believe it.

No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests.

No, I can’t believe it. Hannah Baker killed herself.

I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to theses tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.

What? No!

Shut up, Clay, will you? And it’s not even that I’m absorbed in Hannah’s story. It’s far from that. Hannah’s suicide story is a sappy melodrama. Clay’s story is a grand affectation. The narratives feel forced and insincere. Also, Clay seems to zone out a lot, as if he weren’t truly listening to Hannah’s cassettes.

I like reading about suicides. In fact, I have in mind some memorable characters who committed suicide, the one true philosophical act (that’s paraphrasing Albert Camus, who is not necessarily a proponent of suicide). But in this novel, even with thirteen reasons, I can’t see any philosophical insight on Hannah’s suicide.

Suicide is acceptable for me if the alternative, which is to continue living, is worse. But Hannah has to prove in her seven cassettes that she’s better off dead. She has alternatives, she has people whom she can talk to. But she claims that these people do not see the signs. Well, is it people’s jobs to always look out for signs? Is there any help for people who have already made up their minds? Can one reach out to people who cave in and shut the world out? Hannah is just as blind as she claims the people around her are. In fact, she’s the blindest person among them all.

And so I don’t buy the theme that this book is telling the reader. Sure, people must be socially responsible, people must be aware of the effects that their actions have on others. But people must not blame others for their misery especially when they have set themselves on wallowing in misery.

I am also offended that the suicide question is reduced to a game of pass along with … a map! If there’s anything good that Clay does in this novel, it is to crumple and throw that map away, but that doesn’t happen soon. And he doesn’t even do so for realizing that the map is ridiculous. Great, now we can simplify many Big Questions with manila paper and markers. Let’s plot out something with X and Y coordinates. Mark this with an X, if you will. And by that, I don’t mean the map, but the book.

[Read in May 2015.]
[1 out of 5 stars.]
[Epub.]

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18 Comments

  1. Wow. You really didn’t like the book.

    I’m on the other corner. I liked what the book was trying to do.

    It wasn’t trying to romanticize suicide. It wasn’t making Hannah out to be this wonderful person who was misunderstood and had no friends. Hannah was as much a problem of her depression as her oppressors were. She blamed people for mistakes she could’ve done something about. What this accomplished was to make Hannah human. She wasn’t the hero of the story. (Although, I found it really annoying that Clay was a good guy through and through.) She was a device for readers to confront some realities of depression and suicide. And for readers to do something about it.

    It’s never going to be a classic. It’s not a great book. But it’s good enough for me. And it’s definitely a book that I would recommend for people who are dealing with depression indirectly.

    But, hey, different strokes for different folks, right? :)

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    • I would like to push this further but since we come from the far ends of the rating spectrum, I’ll settle on agreeing to disagreeing. :D

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  2. Wow, this sounds infinitely terrible. I had the impression, from your review, that this is a book that infantilizes suicide. Also, the protagonist sounds ridiculously and unbelievably narcissistic. Suicide and depression are real issues and it’s alarming that there are books like these that seem to use such issues for their own ends.

    Anyway, I’d hate to judge a book before reading it. Still, due to your review, I will now avoid it as if my life depended on it.

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  3. Thank you, Angus! I’m thinking of reading this book but I was hesitating because I don’t like suicide stories. Pass na talaga ako dito Haha.

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  4. I didn’t like this book for the same reasons. I have a great friend who has been suicidal and I think this book would offend her. Hannah seemed whiny, not depressed and she, like you said, was very blind, the same thing she accused the recipients of. I listened to the audiobook and it helped a bit with the ping-pong narration, but it still came across as cheap and distracting.

    I get what the narrator was trying to do. Suicide and depression are real issues for young children (Hannah’s age and younger) but I felt like Hannah was more successful justifying her suicide than Clay was at rejecting her reasons. The author had good intentions, but he didn’t bring them across in a way I felt was useful or effective.

    I hope you can find a better book to read next!

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    • Thanks for sharing! A background info: this is part of a reading challenge. I doubt though that the challenge had anything to do with my feelings for the novel.

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  5. what a shame the execution of this left a lot to be desired. The premise of telling a story as if its a tape recording sounded so different

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  6. pat says

    Ma-hate-read nga ‘to. Or read-read. We’ll see. :-P

    Favorite book about suicide – The Virgin Suicides. Forever, or until the right book comes along.

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    • Mataas ang average rating niya sa Goodreads, in fair. I love the Lisbon girls, too. I would recommend The Sense of an Ending if you want further reading on suicides.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I wasn’t impressed with this; I read it when it came out. I found the main character to be kind of bratty, and it was just too cutesy to be a book about suicide with actual gravitas, if you know what I mean. Selena Gomez was optioning this for a movie, and I couldn’t help but think of Emily’s Reasons Why Not, which was a heavily promoted show about … a girl named Emily … and her reasons for staying a virgin. Unsurprisingly, it was canceled before its first episode. Keep reviewing!

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