Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard about this book through word-of-mouth buzz from several sources. Initially, I was intrigued, but worried it wouldn't do justice to the subject matter. Now, I only wish this book, or one like it, had come out when I was in high school. This book is everything I hated about high school, encapsulated. It would've been nice to know I wasn't alone, even if the person I related to was a fictional character.

This book deals with some controversial subjects: suicide, depression, misogyny, teen drinking, rape. Very few of them are addressed head-on, and Asher never preaches about these topics, though he makes it clear where he stands.

The narrative follows Clay Jensen, a high school student whose classmate killed herself a few weeks before. He gets a package in the mail that turns out to be her suicide note, a series of 7 tapes that comprise the 13 people who contributed to her death. Pained, he listens to learn what he did that drove her to kill herself.

Asher's treatment of a teenage girl who's driven to suicide is so sensitive, so aware of the reality, so tuned into the subtleties of how it happens and why it goes unnoticed and what it looks like that I couldn't help but wonder how the author knew. Sure, one can do research and talk to people with depression and interview those who've tried killing themselves, but being in the head of someone driven to such despair isn't easy. Is he that empathic? Or did he have a Hannah Baker of his own?

I would recommend this book to most kids in high school, to teachers who want to open the discussion of recognizing the warning signs of suicide, to adults who want to understand what their classmates went through, to parents who need to get into their teenagers' minds. I can think of very few people who wouldn't benefit from taking this in, though, judging by previous reviews, not everyone understands the nature of despair.

I took in this book on audio, which I highly recommend. It feels more like you're getting to listen to Hannah's tapes than I imagine text would convey.

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