I first heard about Thirteen Reasons Why on Jen Robinson’s book blog. She’d read an advanced copy and when she later noted that it had officially been published, I remember how intrigued I’d been by the book review and looked it up at my library.
My library only had it on CD, so I downloaded it to my iPod and listened to it while I ran, rode the bus, and worked on computer projects at work.
Let me tell you one thing about me first: I’m a sucker for a good plot idea. That’s why I was so sure I’d like Eat, Pray, Love – it’s seriously a good concept.
The concept for Th1rteen R3asons Why is also (at least in my mind) a good one: Hannah Baker, a high school student, has committed suicide a few weeks previous to the opening of the book. Clay Jensen, a fellow student who has liked Hannah from afar for a long time, receives a package in the mail which contains seven cassette tapes, each side of which explains one of the reasons (or people) that convinced her to kill herself.
The person who received the package needs to listen to all 13 sides (one of which will be about them) and then pass it on to the next person on the tapes. If they fail to do so, Hannah warns, she’s passed a second set of the tapes on to someone else who will make them public.
Clay is horrified to think that he might be part of the reason Hannah killed herself, but can’t think of anything he ever did that might have hurt her.
The first tape talks about Hannah’s move to the city at the beginning of high school and her first boyfriend there (whom Tape 1: Side A is directed at). Although they only dated for a few months and never did more than kiss, he exaggerated stories of their relationship to make himself look cooler and this, in turn, gave Hannah quite a reputation. Clay himself, despite having a crush on her, hesitated to ever make a move because he worried the rumors might be true.
From there, things progressively got worse, with one student after another treating Hannah poorly or thoughtlessly because of the things that other students had said about Hannah and making her life increasingly miserable.
Hannah herself takes some of the blame for times where she was too afraid or too embarrassed to stand up for someone else or to tell the truth about several incidents.
Generally, I steer clear of suicide books. It’s a topic I’m a little uncomfortable with and I rarely like a book that has it as a major theme. But the this one really struck all the right notes for me.
I was really hoping that, at the end, it would turn out that Hannah wasn’t really dead and had just been trying to teach her fellow students a lesson. Allow me to prematurely extinguish that hope: she really is dead.
It’s not a book I’d recommend to just anyone – it does have some pretty hefty themes and suicide books, by definition, are not generally uplifting. But for a more mature reader, it could likely be pretty touching. It was definitely a book I thought about for days after I finished it.
Also, I think this was one book that probably was better on CD than in print. Because the book has two narrators (Hannah and Clay), it could be a bit tricky to keep track of which is speaking in text (apparently Hannah’s words are italicized in the print copy) whereas it’s completely obvious when the narrator switches from a girl to a boy on the CD.