Sunday, March 30, 2008

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

Tough weekend -- a touch of insomnia on Friday night, which made Saturday a living hell, complete with a sleep-deprived headache that gives new meaning to misery. Alas, no progress on FI yesterday because I was worried I might set the thing on fire with the first stumbling block I ran into. So, I rested...popped a lot of Advil. When my headache finally subsided, reading was my only option. LOL. So, I chose this book...not sure it was the right one for my particular mood, but I honestly couldn't put it down.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher
Young Adult Contemporary

Brief Summary: Clay Jensen comes home from school one day to find a package on his doorstep. In it are cassette tapes from Hannah Baker. His instructions are simple. One of these tapes is addressed to him, but he'll have to listen to them all to discover which -- and afterwards, he will need to send the tapes on to the next person on the list. The thing is, Hannah had committed suicide...and these tapes are addressed to the people who comprise the Thirteen Reasons Why.

Eeee...how can you turn away from a book with a premise like that?! Gives me chills, even now.

First, I want to talk about Asher's style. It was truly unique and pulled me right into the story. Simple...yet I'm sure infinitely complicated when it came to writing this book. What he did was give us the full text of each of these cassette tapes -- as heard by Clay, and alternated between Hannah's recorded voice and Clay's real time experiences. Wow. It was nuts and took me a bit to sink into...but honestly, it's probably the best possible way this story could've been told. It drew me in...created this sort of nervous anticipation to hear what would be coming next... kept me on edge the entire way through. Genius, I tell ya. I've never read anything like it.

The underlying tension in this book starts pretty high, but man, does it build even more as Clay makes his way through the tapes. By the end, I was literally coming out of my skin, almost wanting to scream at the girl not to do it. But I knew the ending before I began -- there is no changing what was to come. Still, I was rooting for her to go down another path.

Obviously, the subject of suicide is a hard one to deal with. No one wants to say anything negative about someone who decided to take their own life...least of all me. I've known a few people who decided to end it all -- none of them were close friends, but casual acquaintances. Someone I worked with or a friend of a friend, sort of thing. After seeing the wake such a decision leaves behind, I find more times than not that I react with anger. This book was no exception.

In the beginning, I was drawn forward with this need to know why she did it...why did she take her own life and choose to send these tapes? What was her motivation? Above all, I wanted to understand how a person gets to a point where death is the only way they see out.

By the end, I was SO angry with her. Not only because she cut off her own chance to live, but because she chose this particular method to explain her reasons. Through Clay, we are put into the shoes of someone on the receiving end of such a delivery. Just imagine if it were you. A girl sends these tapes, declaring YOU are one of the reasons she committed suicide. Whether it's founded or not, how do you recover and move past something like that? Imagine reliving certain encounters as seen through the eyes of this girl -- to learn what she needed from you in that moment and to hear you utterly failed her. Good gawd.

So yeah, that's why I didn't like her at the end of this book. Her 13th and final tape nearly made me sick. I didn't respect the way she left this world, and I didn't sympathize for her anymore. That may sound harsh and unfeeling, but don't confuse my caring about her and my respect (or lack thereof) for the way she chose to leave her mark on the world. I'm angry because I did start to care for her, and these tapes were nothing more than an accusing finger pointed at 13 people having varying degrees of awareness of their "guilt."

People aren't mindreaders. We all need to remember that. Talk to someone if you find yourself in this situation. From Mr. Asher's jacket cover:

1-800-SUICIDE, www.hopeline.com

I woke up thinking about this book today. So I won't deny it had a strong emotional impact on me. In fact, I'd be hardpressed to name a book in recent years that has impacted me this much. And for that, I applaud Asher. Because whether or not you are able to indentify with this girl, this book is amazing. That said, if you're looking for a light book to read...this ain't it. (g)

Buy or Rent? I'd buy.

7 comments:

Hélène Boudreau said...

Hi Jen,

I've read this book, too and enjoyed it.

Have you seen Jay's blog?

http://discomermaids.blogspot.com/

Jennifer Hendren said...

Helene,

Oh good. :) Did you have a reaction anything similar to mine? I really hope I don't come off as an insensitive arse...it's just that suicide really hits a raw nerve with me.

I went back and added the contact info for the crisis lines, etc. I used to work for a rape crisis hotline, and think the volunteers at these places are invaluable!

And no, haven't visited his website...but I'll be sure to do that.

Jen

Hélène Boudreau said...

Yeah, I felt really bad for the kids who had to listen to the tapes. On the one hand it made Hannah very unlikeable so that in the end, my sympathy fell to them even though she was the one who took her life, which seems contradictory. BUT, the fact is, she took her life because she felt victimized and that came through on the tapes and the MC, Clay, does grow from the experience as we see him reach out to the other girl at the very end instead of just overlooking her. Which I guess was the point of the book, that the little things you do or say, just to be cool can hurt people in unimaginable ways and to look beyond yourself.

Does that make sense?

Jennifer Hendren said...

Helene,

Oh yeah, that makes sense, though I must admit that that particular ending was one of the things I liked the least about this book. LOL. (g) It felt too much like a lesson book, though I think it's a good thing to always remember. In a way, it got Hannah off the hook. Her actions weren't really criticized too much, and somehow the blame was placed on all of the tape listeners (not that _some_ of them didn't deserve it). I kept thinking...man, I wonder how those kids would live with themselves afterward -- especially when most of their actions were just high school behaviors that most of us (I hope) grow out of. I especially worried about the 13th tape -- that person got a really RAW deal -- highly unfair if you ask me. Although for dramatic purposes, it worked, it was all a little too evil for me. (g)

Jen

Anonymous said...

I was trying to think of some popular songs that could relate to this book. Any suggestions ?

Jennifer Hendren said...

Dear Anonymous--

Off the top of my head, perhaps Shawn Colvin's Sunny Came Home -- about arson, but sort of the same general idea. "list of names" "came home with a vengeance", etc.

Hope that helps!

Jen

Anonymous said...

Whenever I listen to Kiss and Tell by Selena Gomez I always think of it, It is my favourite book, but to be honest it made me think a lot about suicide (im 13) and i nearlly did... then I read it again and didnt...

BEST BOOK EVER