Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fiction | Why Thirteen Reasons Matter

If you are at all attune to the YA community, you’ve no doubt heard of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why—the story of a boy, Clay, who comes home one day to find a box of cassette tapes on his doorstep. When he starts to listen, he’s astounded to hear the voice of his classmate Hannah Baker, because Hannah committed suicide two weeks earlier. These tapes are essentially her suicide note, informing thirteen different people how they contributed to her eventual breakdown.

Unpopular opinion: I did not really like Thirteen Reasons Why.

I know that reading YA as an adult, you sometimes have to forget your grown-up cynicism and glaze over the stereotypical teen angst. Oftentimes, underneath all of that, there’s a really great story. I think Thirteen Reasons Why had the potential and has its merits, but there were just too many things about it that bothered me.

[Note: Spoilers ahead, so beware if you haven’t read it!]

  1. The angsty reactions of Clay, the thoughts in his head, that we read as he listened to the tapes made me just want to smack him. Yes, it is a very serious subject, but I just didn’t buy the gut-wrenching horror and pain that he felt, because…
  2. I didn’t think his immediate hatred of all these people on these tapes for the “horrible things” they did was justified. A lot of the stories that Hannah tells involve very small actions. I think Asher’s point that small actions can lead to big consequences is spot on, but I don’t think it’s fair for Clay to immediately judge all of these people for the small things they may not have even realized they were doing. Though some stories were worse than others and are judgment-worthy, many of them could just be chalked up to bratty teen behavior—something every teenager is guilty of. Clay’s immediate judgment and reactions toward other people, just because he knew the outcome for Hannah, was a lot of what led to reason A.
  3. Most importantly, I just couldn’t sympathize with Hannah. I understand the point of this story, and I think it is a wonderful point—the little things you do could affect someone else without you realizing it. Yes, TRUTH IN A BOTTLE. However, I thought Hannah incredibly selfish. I personally didn’t think any of the things that happened to her were awful enough to justify immediate feelings of suicide. To a strong, confident person, they would easily be brushed off and ignored with the knowledge that these classmates are just immature jerks. And I do understand that she may have had other issues and these little events just tipped the scales. But she didn’t acknowledge that. She just blamed others. She tries to make you think she wanted to get help, but she didn’t. She only went to the teacher to audio record their session to add him to her tapes. To add another person to her list of blame. Her decision was already made, and her cry for help was, to me, a total farce. And the fact that she’s just forcing people to listen to all these tapes of her post-mortum is pretty sadistic.

But as I said earlier, maybe it’s just my adult perspective that darkens my opinion. I apparently seemed to have gone to high school in some sort of magical convent of joy and friendship where there was little drama and the biggest scandal involved someone bringing vodka in a Gatorade bottle to Anatomy class.

That being said, though I found issues with this story, I am glad this book has gained the notoriety it has in the YA community. The idea that “your actions have consequences” cannot be stressed enough with this group, in my opinion, and maybe something in your face like this, no matter how trite I may find it, is what’s needed to get the message across. For this I commend Jay Asher, because I know that not all high school experiences are as simple and positive as mine was.

I’m sure many of you have read it—what did you think?


Aarti said…

I've not read this book, but I also don't care about spoilers, so I went ahead and read this whole post, anyway.  I think your reasons for disliking this book are completely valid.  And in many ways, that's what is so distressing about teen suicide (or suicide at any age, I suppose).  You always wonder what you could have done to prevent it and go over and over in your mind the things that you DID do that may have contributed to the overwhelming depression.  The idea of a suicide leaving tapes telling people how THEY contributed, though… that is horrifying to me.  I don't know how a person could ever get over such a thing, and it puts so much blame on other people when so much about depression is internal.

Kari said…

Yes that so much of these issues the character was facing were internal…but I still can't believe it never addresses this! Hannah is presented as a character who has an okay home life, doesn't really have close friends but doesn't have a very negative rapport with anyone, really. From her perspective, we hear she has a "reputation" that Clay occasionally confirms, but the reputation seems minor from all the perspectives I gathered from various people in this story. She goes back and forth between her claims she is whispered about constantly to her quasi-friendships with various people, which make it hard to figure out what the real truth of her situation is. The fact that Hannah, nor the book in general, never identifies her internal issues and feelings, independent of others, makes me feel like part of the story is missing—and if it's not, then Hannah was just incredibly selfish.

Jeny said…

I haven't read this book yet but I think that the reasons you listed would bother me too. 

Kari said…

Oh you should read it and see what you think—it's pretty quick to get through. It has such a high rating on Goodreads that I am certain teens aren't the only ones who love it. I think it just depends on your personal reaction and personal experiences.

softdrink said…

I liked it, but the author is local, and so it was cool to see some familiar places pop up in the story.

I didn't care for Hannah at all, either. I had a pretty easy time of it in high school, but I did teach for a few years and got to witness all of the high drama that surrounds teenagers. So I think Asher managed to capture some of that.