Title: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY
Author: Jay Asher
Publication Information: Razorbill, 2011 (first published 2007)
Source: Library — read for class
Genre: Young Adult — Contemporary
Warnings: Suicide, sexual assault, sexual harassment
Rating: 2 stars
Recommended For: Not recommended.
Clay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.
Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes– and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his small town. . .
. . .and what he discovers changes his life forever.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I will give Jay Asher credit for exactly one thing about this book, and it’s that he built up the suspense surrounding Hannah’s death enough that I wanted to keep reading. Which is simultaneously what I disliked the most about this book, because Hannah’s suicide was treated like a mystery to be solved, and the whole thing felt sensationalized. The book centered on Clay wondering why Hannah is holding him partially responsible for her death, rather than on what he could’ve done to help her. While I thought Clay’s feelings of anger and confusion were realistic, there was no discussion of how Hannah was depressed and how that played a role in her death, no real discussion of how the adults in her life failed her when she tried to get help. The whole crux of the book was Hannah’s desire to get revenge on the people who bullied her, and that’s not healthy at all.
I was really, actually angry after finishing THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, because I honestly could not understand how a book about suicide couldn’t discuss mental illness at all. I think there was a throwaway line from Clay when he’s angrily thinking about how she needed help, but that’s all I really saw. We see Hannah reaching out a couple times and her being dismissed, and while that’s unfortunately realistic, the notion that reaching out for help isn’t worth it is never deconstructed — what is that telling teens who need help, and might read this book and take away the thought that it’s not worth it because no one will believe them anyway?
I honestly would not feel comfortable recommending this book to anyone, especially since there are books that handle suicide and mental illness much better. Examples include I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez, WHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord, and I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman.