THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

I have been getting the sense that I may be the last book blogger out there who doesn’t read YA.

1217100 So I decided to see what the fuss was about, and dipped my foot into the YA stream. I just finished Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, which is a popular YA novel from a few years ago. The book is about Clay, a high school student who receives a mysterious box of cassettes in the mail. The cassettes turn out to be recordings by a fellow student, Hannah Baker, who killed herself a few weeks earlier. On the tapes, she has recorded the “thirteen reasons why” she killed herself. Those thirteen reasons turn out to be thirteen of her classmates who did various things over the course of high school that contributed to her despair.

In Thirteen Reasons Why, Clay listens to the tapes in order (he received them because he is one of the reasons, and is to pass them along to the person listed after him), and intersperses her dialogue with his narration and reactions to what Hannah says.

I am going to start with the good. I admire Jay Asher for taking this subject on, and I bet that this book is a powerful one for teenagers. The message is that your actions have effects on people, even ones you don’t intend, and that careless, thoughtless, and downright cruel actions can cause terrible consequences. There are testimonials all over the book from readers who say that it changed, even saved, their lives, and I can see why.

This book lent itself well to audio, thanks to the alternating structure of Clay’s and Hannah’s voices. It’s suspenseful, and kept me interested. The actors were pretty good at sounding like teenagers. And I liked listening to Hannah’s tapes, rather than reading them, just as Clay had.

But.

Reading this book as an adult, I found it overwrought. Perhaps I am too old now to relate to being a teenager (though I doubt this, because I read plenty of coming-of-age novels that I find very compelling). I found Hannah’s problems to be big, but not unsurmountable. She had paths out that she didn’t take. Her actions were too premeditated to convey the desperation that she supposedly felt. Emotionally, I didn’t find this to be a particularly satisfying read.

One other quibble – I don’t like books that take place in real time. This whole book basically takes place in less than 24 hours – which I always find sort of exhausting and unrealistic.

I won’t judge all of YA on this book, of course. I just didn’t love this one. I’ll try something else soon.

Oh, hi FTC! Paper and audio were both courtesy of the D.C. Library.

8 Comments

  • September 17, 2011 - 9:37 am | Permalink

    I have been interested in this book for over a year but the YA keeps me from reading it.
    Glad to hear the audio version was acceptable, this is most likely how I will read this book… if I do.

  • September 17, 2011 - 9:55 am | Permalink

    Nope you’re not the last blogger… I have yet to read it! I can see the points you’re making and I’ll probably agree but I definitely still want to read it!

  • September 17, 2011 - 10:51 am | Permalink

    I love reading YA, but I hated this book. I really hated everything about Hannah. I suggest reading some Maureen Johnson or Lauren Myracle instead.

  • September 17, 2011 - 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t read much YA, either. Not much, as in “very little.”
    I do think I’ll read this (some day), though, as I’m curious about it. Will keep your warnings in mind 🙂

  • September 18, 2011 - 11:15 am | Permalink

    I’ve gotten more into YA since blogging, but I’ve found I tend to pick up the non-realistic ones (Hunger Games, Graceling, that sort of thing) or historical fiction (A Northern Light, which is AMAZING on audio!), I think because of what you point out here. They can be hard for me to relate to and “overwrought,” as you say. I actually listened to a bit of this a few weeks ago and put it aside, because I just wasn’t in the mood. I may try it again another time.
    There is some seriously good YA out there, though! If you like audio, what about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian? That’s one of my all-time favorites.

  • Susan B
    September 18, 2011 - 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Last year I read Before I Die by Jenny Downham, which I thought was a well-written and mature YA book. I had thought if it was good I could pass it along to my niece but it would have been far too sad and heavy for her.

  • September 19, 2011 - 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I recommend, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Young Adult, also dealing with death and dying but so well done.
    My son is reading Thirteen Reasons Why for English enrichment and he is soooo the non-reader, but he really likes it. He says it’s about “real people” and he likes that the problems seem like ones that can actually happen.
    It’s hard to remember what it was like to be that age, but little things did seem like big issues back then.

  • October 4, 2011 - 11:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m late to the party, but I just discovered your blog and had to comment. I had serious problems with TRW. I read it soon after it came out, when I was a few years out of high school – 21, maybe? That’s important for two reasons: I was still young enough to identify with teenagers (still am, but less and less each year =\) and it’s been a while since I read it. I just.. I can’t accept that Hannah’s selfishness is never shown as selfishness. It’s true that people underestimate the effect that they have on other people, and I can accept that Hannah would blame these people for her misery. But Jay Asher never allows the book to show Hannah as selfish (except in relation to the main character, occasionally). Not to the people she blames. And I just think it’s so messed up.
    Is this book supposed to show people that they might be bullies, might be affecting people in negative ways? Maybe. I feel, though, like it’s more for depressed, even suicidal teens. And as a message to suicidal teens? I just get so angry. (fwiw, I’m saying this as an ex-suicidal teen. Suicidal ex-teen? That makes it sound like I’m still suicidal. Ex-suicidal ex-teen? :P) The only other person I’ve talked to about this, also an ex-suicidal ex-teen, felt the same way. I have no idea if I’m being at all articulate. It would be helpful if I hadn’t read the book four years ago! (Also, sorry for the essay. I have strong feelings about this book. :P)
    Let me add to the chorus of “This doesn’t represent the best of YA, it’s not even close!”. It makes me sad to hear anybody say that the label of YA keeps them from reading a book they might otherwise be interested in!
    I’m new to your blog, so I don’t know what books you like, but if you’re interested in history, I highly recommend Octavian Nothing I & II by M.T. Anderson. If you like contemporary stuff, I’d recommend Maureen Johnson (generally lighter stuff) and John Green (less light). I’ll second the recommendation for Sherman Alexie’s Part Time Indian – just finished reading it! There’s tons of great YA out there. And keep in mind, just like in the adult bestsellers, there’s both overrated and great stuff in YA bestsellers.

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