Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

When Clay Jensen arrives home from school one day, he is surprised to find a plain package, with his name and address scrawled on it, waiting for him. With no sender address listed, and containing seven loose audiotapes (which are numbered), Clay is intrigued by the parcel and decides to listen to the first tape, hoping to uncover the mystery of who sent them to him.
But what Clay hears turns out to be the last thing he ever expected- Hannah Baker, his high school crush, who killed herself two weeks earlier.
On the tape, she explains that there were thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life, and that each of the people who receive the tapes are responsible for playing a part in her death. Clay is one of those people.
All that she requests is that each tape is listened to in full and then sent on to the next person on the list. If somebody doesn’t comply with her rules, then a copy of the tapes (with their incriminating stories) will be released into the public domain for everyone to hear, not just the thirteen people she has chosen.
Anxious to hear Hannah’s voice, and worried about what role he played in her death, Clay gets out the map he received from Hannah in the days before she swallowed the pills and traces her story and his role in it.
Over the course of a night, Clay learns all about what pushed Hannah over the edge, witnessing first-hand the trauma that caused her downward spiral, and learning some hard truths about himself in the process.

What I gained from reading this book:
Asher’s debut novel deals with the delicate topic of teenage suicide, and explores some of the reasons why people might choose this as the ultimate solution to their problems. His portrayal of Hannah, taunted by rumours, passive-aggressive bullying and a strong sensitivity, helps to paint a picture of how one vibrant girl could change so quickly into one whose life spiralled out of control- so much so, that the only way that she could find a way out of it was to kill herself.
This novel also highlights how one negative action can create a snowball to affect the lives of many people, even if the original action seems insignificant at the time.
Most of all, this novel teaches us that small acts of kindness can provide a ray of hope for people who need it most. Even though Hannah commits suicide before this novel even begins, she remembers the kindness that Clay and several other students showed to her. Clay realises this as he listens to the tapes, and, hoping to prevent a repeat of what happened to Hannah, learns to reach out to other people who seem lost, in the hope that he can make a difference. This is something that everyone can learn.

The way that the novel is written is clever, with Hannah’s story interspersed with Clay’s own reactions and thoughts. This allows us to see several perspectives at the one time. The author is also able to build up suspense by allowing us to hear Hannah’s story only as Clay hears it, via the tapes. By doing this, it makes us- the readers- feel more involved in Hannah’s drama.

At times, you can’t help but feel that Hannah is overreacting to some of the things she claims had a role in her death. I understand that it’s the build up of these events that culminate in her suicide, and that her experiences weren’t pleasant in any way, but the way that she picks apart every little detail of what happened to her in order to justify her death sometimes seems just a tad over-the-top. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of somebody whose mental state is starting to collapse, but to me it seemed kind of nitpicky.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Teenage Fiction

Recommended for: People looking for a serious teen fiction that deals with complex issues.

If you or someone you know is having problems and you need to talk to somebody, please contact the following help lines:

Kids Help Line (Australia) 1800 55 1800
Lifeline (Australia) 13 11 14
Mental Health Advice Line (Australia) 1300 280 737

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Thirteen Reasons Why

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