Reading Challenge, book 7, a book set in high school, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I am not a huge fan of most YA literature because the writing tends to drive me nuts. I hated teenagers when I was a teenager, so going back and reading all the snarky teenage angst ridden dialogue, etc. makes me want to tear my hair out. However, I think it’s important to touch base with the YA writing world every now and again to see what the “kids are into.” I must confess that I saw this particular book was being worked into a Netflix original series and I thought this would be a good time to read it. I also found the concept of this novel interesting and I wanted to explore the author’s narrative structure.
In this book, the protagonist is a high schooler named Clay. He’s a good kid-on track to be Valedictorian, everybody in school likes him. We meet Clay after a recent tragedy strikes his school–young Hannah has committed suicide and the community is shaken. Clay had a romantic interest in Hannah, but never found a way to tell her how he felt. Feeling sad for never revealing his feelings for her, Clay is mournful until a box is delivered to his home. It’s full of old cassette tapes and a note. From Hannah.
The novel unfolds through a series of cassettes that Hannah records before taking her own life. It reveals the “snowball effect” of the events that led her to the tragic decision to take her own life. She shows the interconnectedness of the individuals in her community, and demonstrates how even the most benign actions can lead to horrific consequences. Each tape discuss one individual and how they played a part in Hannah’s downward spiral. After each person listens to the tapes, they must pass them on to the next individual until they have all listened to her story. If they refuse, she has someone with a second set of tapes that will be released to the public, humiliating the people on the tapes and destroying their reputation.
I loved the idea behind the story; what a cool way to show the various threads connecting this web of characters. That’s about where my love stops, though. I absolutely hated the back-and-forth between Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s commentary of them. He annoyed me to no end. She annoyed me to no end. The things that she considered horrible were, for the most part, pretty tame. I suppose if you’re an upper-middle class white girl, then yes, you might find these things disturbing. Don’t get me wrong–some of them were bad. But someone uses you for a ride to a party and they are on your suicide sh*t list? Really? All I could think during the majority of this story was #firstworldproblems. Her petty teenager dramatics were annoying. Her attempts at being “deep” were annoying. Mostly she was just…annoying. Halfway through I started thinking “JUST DIE ALREADY!” which is terrible, but that’s how unlikeable I found her. If the worst thing that ever happens in your life is you have a bad reputation in high school, then I think you have it pretty great. But like all teenagers, she had no idea how temporary this situation was and sadly made a choice to permanently end a temporary problem.
I think the thing that bothered me the most was how Hannah seemed to be constantly fishing for someone to “save her” from herself. She’d dangle the suicide carrot and wait for someone to swoop in and save her. However, she admittedly put her fate in the hands of the worst possible people, then used them as an excuse when they failed to come through for her, even though she knew they wouldn’t. For someone so “smart” and trying so hard to “be saved,” it seemed like a cop out. But I supposed this is another youthful behavior at play. It was like a game, one she really didn’t want to play but she had worked herself up so much over it. It felt hollow and a bit forced. Overall, I would say this was an excellent idea but the execution fell short.