My Reasons Why - REVIEW 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

So I finally did it. I waited patiently for my hold on a copy of 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher to come to my branch. Not surprisingly it took until now from the premiere of the series for it to arrive. In March when the series premiered on Netflix, the internet was bombarded with excitement for the adaptation of this book into a miniseries. And then it turned dark. People loved it, but it was graphic. People hated it - it was too graphic. People read the book and raged about it. People read the book and loved it. I listened calmly to all my friends speak on how they felt. If there's one thing everyone can agree upon is that 13 Reasons Why stirs strong feelings in us, whether positive or negative. As of writing this post I have not started the series. This is just my personal opinion and take on the book, author and writing.

TW: Suicide, Self-Harm. If you need someone to speak to, please find crisis help lines here

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher published 2007

Synopsis from Goodreads

You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. 

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

What follows is my detailed opinion on my reading of 13 Reasons Why and includes spoilers.

I picked up my copy and let me tell you by page 10 I was pissed off. Hannah, it seems, has decided to get revenge post-mortem. It comes across in the beginning as a horrifyingly morbid game to her. She's pissed and she wants to wreak havoc on those who she believe have wronged her. Now I'm not saying that she wasn't hurt. Nope, I'm just saying that by page 10 Hannah comes off as someone who is very coherent and has an unusual amount of direction to create such a large project as creating these tapes and maps and the whole back up plan of releasing the tapes should her little desire of basically spreading her hate to these 13 people not play out in the exact way she desires. It just seems like an unrealistic project for a child so destitute and in so much pain she's going to take her life.

As the story progresses, we go through more tapes, hear Hannah tell her audience of some truly horrid things that have happened to her. I have been Hannah. I have been the new girl with the shitty reputation she did nothing to get. Literally one year at a school I only attended for that year - I did nothing, I lived in the next town over with my grandparents and didn't hang out with any of the students in my school at all. Which apparently gave the students free reign to make up whatever stories they damned well pleased about me. Lets just say I had a penchant for skipping classes that year because it was easier than facing students.

I Have Been Hannah

The incidents that happened to Hannah were all horrific. Completely unacceptable behavior by her classmates. As someone who has battled with lifelong anxiety, depression in my 20s, and my entire grade school life was spent being bullied and an outsider - I feel lucky I never became suicidal. I do not agree with people who are floating around the opinion that Hannah's character "did not have a good enough reason to commit suicide" Hannah had every reason to commit suicide. Especially with the allusions to her former school and wanting to leave that all behind and start fresh.

Now let's talk about Clay for a moment. I love Clay. I knew Clay would be on the tape because Hannah loved him. I think what she did was so unfair to him. I cried reading his part of him listening to his tape and processing it. Bawled my bloody eyes out. He cared so much and he's hurting because even though he did everything right, he still will blame himself for her death.

Which brings me back to Hannah, again - all of these events that created the "snowball effect" for Hannah. It feels like she had decided to end her life before she made the tapes. But the person on the tapes seems so cool and calculating to me. It doesn't add up. I could see perhaps a character who would run away, leaving all of this behind. I could see journal entries written over the time period of all of these events happening after her death. I feel like we have two different Hannah's. And while yes quite often people who are suicidal do not seem so quite often - these tapes were not what the public saw. These decisions she made to create the scavenger hunt of hatred and pain just don't fit in for me. And that is my problem with this book.

I also feel like the end is a little rushed. For someone who started this whole tape recording story with such detail and precision to just push through the end? Although that could be the point. She started off angry and then just fizzled out when it got to recounting the things she just couldn't deal with


Dangerous Narratives

I also have major problems with the tape regarding her counselor at school. In no way whatsoever should they have written and published that chapter in a way that could perpetuate the idea that professionals, teachers, COUNSELORS, would not care enough to help you. That going to them when you're hurting or in need of help is pointless. There is so much damage done with that narrative.

In the end 13 Reasons Why does a good job of shining a much needed light onto the fact that even the smallest of actions can have extensive and damaging repercussions. I think that that is monumental and should be happening more in literature for young adults. I think also showing that when there is an abundance of such events happening in someone's life it can cause feelings of hopelessness, self harm and suicide.

A Responsibility to Young Adult Readers

I do think the undertones of revenge, how they handled certain points of the story when it came to the adults in this situation, and the actual suicide are well written at all. Even though the book was published in 2007, this is something I could have expected out of a book in the 90s when we were just starting to have candid conversations about things such as depression, drug use, self-harm, etc. We were finding our footing for discussing problematic situations. However is it not the 90s, we have come further and we know more. Publishers, authors and editors have a responsiblity to their audiences, to our future generations to be more discerning when it comes to these topics. To not just push them out because they will resonate well, but the after affects could be quite alarming.

With the release of the television series this year, ten years after the publication of the original novel, the amount of teenage suicide has sky rocketed - and the number of cases in the hospital where the child has seen the show or read the book recently is too high to ignore.
"Research shows that exposure to another person's suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide," according to a statement about the show released this month by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Final Thoughts: Three Out of Five Stars

I do think the best thing about 13 Reasons Why is that is is opening discussions on a very important topic. It's drawing attention to a topic we are all to quick to shove to the back burner. I'd like to end this off saying that if you have teenage children, are a teenager or have them in your life having an open conversation about this book together would be a smart move. Don't run away from the uncomfortable-ness of this topic. But be aware of the problematic points, have other resources at the ready. And for your convenience I've created a post with Crisis lines worldwide which I've linked below.  I've also included a few links to studies and articles relevant to the TV series, suicide and teenagers.

Crisis Lines Around the World

Facts About Teen Suicide & 13 Reasons Why

Are Certain Schools More Prone to Suicide Ideation?

13 Reasons Why: Considerations for Educators

Why Teen Mental Health Experts are Focused on 13 Reasons Why

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