Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Thirteen Reasons Why is told by the recorded voice of Hannah Baker who, through the faces of seven cassettes, tells the story of how she came to be suicidal and eventually took her own life. Alternating with her tale is Clay Jensen, one of the thirteen people featured on her list. He spends an entire night listening to what she has to say and briefing the reader on his own vision of Hannah when she was still alive and on the few moments they spent together.

Minus the flaws I will speak of later on, this book can be considered as relatively good. I had spotted it long time ago on the shelves of Indigo and heard it was very appreciated throughout the main stream. It was indeed plastered with genuinely good critiques almost everywhere. I nevertheless differ from the main stream opinion, and think that whilst this book can be appreciated for many reasons, it lacks too many things to be considered as strong and true.

With Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher illustrates how the often cruel behaviour of teens leads to unconscious repercussions on others. In this book, it is Hannah who is the punching bag of the many nasty girls and boys that dwell in her school (the classical morons that you as well as I have probably already met once in our life) and who unable her from making friends that she can trust. With his debut novel, Asher tries to portrait how little cruelties piled up can do much harm.

While I agree that high school can be hell for a lot of people I somehow thought it forgot to show and describe how Hannah suffered, and instead we learned it through her narrative, which didn't give the same effect, but I'll get to it later. First of all, the characters.

My opinion on this book can be summarized with this simple statement: I loved what Hannah had to say. I wish I could have said the same about Clay.

Clay was a total gary stu. It is unbelievable how amazingly annoying he was, to the point I started skipping his narrative towards the end of the book. Long story short, he is the adorable, kind and shy but understanding guy that would have been Hanna's 'the one' if he hadn't stepped forward so late. When he receives the cassettes and listens to the first one, he panics, terrorized like a little rabbit and shedding tears every few minutes. Asher gave him a quite important role in the book: he offers the reader a view of Hannah seen by the eyes of an outsider who has no clue why he's on Hannah's list. It is needless to say that Clay fails delivering such a view. All he does is nourish dialogs with Hannah in his head, even though she is dead. Every once in a while the reader has something going around the line of "Why did you do this Hannah?" "Why did you go there? You knew it was dangerous!" "Oh Hannah, what did I do, tell me what I did to you!"

This pitiful whining is not needed to explain Clay's distraught mood, especially since he spends more time saying these lines over and over again instead of really focusing on how he remembers Hannah. Most of the time he simply repeats what she tells in her recordings, but by altering the information with his own words. It is incredibly frustrating and this is why I didn't appreciate the book as much as I could have.

Hannah's character and personality are pretty clear from the beginning: she's an outgoing, smart and mature girl who easily falls in love with poetry. She's slightly rebellious and imaginative, but eventually looses herself as the nagging from the kids all around her becomes constant, and as those she considers friends slowly backstab her. Hannah’s narrative is interesting, since she’s a dead girl getting her revenge. The idea of getting her due back by recording people’s actions on tape and making them listen to them is ingenious and quite chilling. It is truly a good way of shoving the truth into the faces of those who don’t realize how much they hurt people. That is why I was intrigued by what Hannah had to say, and why I could have easily skipped Clay’s narrative.

One of the only issues with this book is that it lacked emotions. Clay failed in giving us the picture of the gradually evolving Hannah, and Hannah's narrative concentrated on describing the events that led her to change, but not how she changed. Asher concentrated too much on making Clay feel sorry for himself and on Hannah describing everything. He forgot about the emotions that needed to come along, and as a reader, I didn’t see Hannah change. Never once in the book did I relate to her. Clay was also so over emotional it seems the author forgot who the suffering victim in his book was.

Lastly, during the reader, I felt disconnected to Hannah’s motives, and constantly felt like they were surrealistic. I know and do understand how few years of bad high school life can destroy and be painful, especially since teenagers are in their full growth and development. The list of misfortunes that Hannah has to endure is clear, and I do agree that most of it is nasty and all, but somehow I am not persuaded. To me Hannah seems like a very strong character, mentality speaking. She has the smarts to rise above the level of teen stupidity and ignore it, but somehow she always gets caught up with it, and chooses to be affected by it, too. Even when she meets Clay and discovers he can be her life-saving boat she chooses to kill herself. High school can be bad, but it doesn't last.

Thirteen Reasons Why will touch some readers. It is a reminder that even when we think we are alone, there is always someone out there that truly cares for us and who is just waiting to help out. I nevertheless met with too many flaws to appreciate this book. It's a good read for Young Adults, and entertaining enough when you ignore Clay's inner monologue. It brings its point across and is highly original, but somehow slipps when it comes to the feelings of the characters. I still encourage teenagers to read this, since it's good for the consciousness of some.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Rating: 8/10

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