Saturday, June 26, 2021

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


So I'm doing this project where I reread some of the books I loved in my adolescence to see how well they stand up to the test of time. Sometimes I go in with tons of expectations because the book occupies so much space rent-free in my head, but sometimes I know I read the book but can't remember anything about it. Such is the case with THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

Before I dive into the review, I want to add a little anecdote about this story. I bought my original copy used and some MONSTER had cut out thirty pages from the climax, so I never really got the full story of what happened, which was incredibly frustrating. Even more frustrating-- after defacing this book and ruining it for somebody else, this monster casually donated their book to a thrift store so someone could part with coin to reap the fruits of their satanic labors.


I still think about this incident all these years later and it still makes me mad. Teen me flipped through the missing pages several times, wondering stupid things like, are all thirty pages sticking together? and, is this on purpose? I just couldn't quite believe that somebody would do something like that. I mean, I put my books face-down and dog-ear the pages and use them as coasters and about a half dozen other so-called "book crimes," but I would never destroy a book and then try to trick someone into reading it. That's just chaotic evil on steroids.

So anyway, the book. This time, I got a new copy. The "unabridged" copy, if you will. I was really curious to see how it would stand up because it is about depression and suicide and recently, I read another book with similar themes, WINTERGIRLS. I loved WINTERGIRLS when I read it as a depressed teen, but as an adult, I couldn't get into it at all. I just kept thinking about SPEAK and how SPEAK was a much, much, much better book. So I wondered if maybe I'd feel the same about THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Now that I'm no longer a depressed teen, maybe it wouldn't feel relatable.

Here's the thing about THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. It does kind of tie into the suicide fantasy that a lot of embittered/angry teens have (and if you have trigger warnings about suicide, you will probably want to leave my review now). You probably know the one. It's the one where you sit there and brood about everyone who wronged you and you think, "They'd be so sorry if I was gone." And you think about how they'd have to suck it up and come to your funeral and be forced to say nice things about you and how it would haunt them for life, etc. This is the book version of that, only the heroine in this book actually does it. She kills herself and sends out tapes (thirteen reasons) to the people she holds responsible for taking the path she decided upon for herself.

One of these tape listeners is Clay, King of the Nice Guys. We get to hear about what a nice guy he is for the bulk of the book. He had a crush on the girl who killed herself and we get to hear about that for the whole book, too. This is kind of like a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl story with a tragic ending, and I'm not sure how I feel about that, because I hate the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope, but this book does kind of show how that is unsustainable and how pining from afar is actually kind of weird and toxic. It's almost a subversion of the genre. Hannah isn't the sparkling Zooey Deschanel clone from a Judd Apatow movie. Things don't glide off her like Teflon. Even though you could argue that her bullying doesn't really seem serious, for her, it is, and for her, it's what pushes her to believe that there is no hope.

Does this book romanticize suicide? I'm not really sure. It definitely bats eyes at it, but it's a thriller, and thrillers are all about death and tragedy. It's a product of the genre. I think whether you see this book as more of a YA contemporary or more of a mystery will shape that view more. I personally found it fascinating, even though I disliked most of the characters. It's so teen, which is probably why it's as popular among the teen crowd as it is. I did like that it closes on a hopeful note, of noticing other people and looking outside of your own sphere of awareness to reach out to people, even if it's hard.

I think that's a good message. But I can definitely see why people have issues with this book and get so fired up about it. It deals with a lot of incredibly problematic subjects and I'm not always sure they were handled as well as they could have been. Part of that is a reflection of the world we live in, but part of that is also the story-telling and the choices the author made in telling it. I'm not sure I'd ever read this again, but it definitely made me think and once it got moving, like Clay, I couldn't really put it down.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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