Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher

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 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.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Razorbil
Publication date:  June 14th 2011  (first published October 18th 2007)
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

My Thoughts:
TRIGGER WARNING: suicide, bullying, rape

I started reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” almost a year ago. I specifically remember that I brought the book to pass time while waiting for someone but sixty pages in and I am not enthused. Here comes the present time when tomorrow, Netflix will release a series based on this book. Out of curiosity, I thought that I should finish reading the book before then.

I have high expectations going in. Aside from the buzz it’s getting from the forthcoming screen adaptation, my paperback copy has five pages of praises from various readers--from authors to professional reviewers to ordinary readers like me. There is also a page listing all the accolades the book got. All that jazz and two hundred eighty-eight pages after, I report to you with great pain and sadness that I am still not enthused.

The book follows Clay Jensen as he listens to a set of seven cassette tapes with recorded messages from Hannah Baker, a girl from school who committed suicide. Apparently, Clay is one of the thirteen people responsible for Hannah’s death. Hannah’s rules are that these thirteen people should listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person who is mentioned next to their own name. As a safety precaution, Hannah had someone follow them around to check if they are listening and passing the tapes along. If any of them breaks the rules, another set of tapes will be released but this time, in public.
You can hear rumors,” I said, “but you can’t know them.”
The book has two point of views: one is that of Hannah as she narrates on those tapes and another is that of Clay as he listens. The format of the book though is not the usual kind of alternating first person point of views separated by each chapter. The reader gets to experience these two narratives simultaneously. When I say simultaneously, I mean literally as in two things at the same time. Hannah’s voice is often overlapping with Clay’s thoughts and vice versa. This is quite a distinctive format but I am not sure if the book benefited much from the uniqueness of its style. For me, the simultaneous narrative felt like two voices jostling for my attention and I have to muster every ounce of concentration I got just so I can continue reading.

And even when I eventually got used to its format, I still do not find myself on board with the book’s hype. Clay Jensen hitting the pause and play buttons for all the seven tapes has become repetitive and boring. The book has a small element of suspense going for it in the form of finding out how a decent guy like Clay landed on Hannah’s list. When the book finally did get to answer that question, the answer does not feel earned and acceptable. It’s like finding the last piece of the puzzle but that piece does not neatly fit and the puzzle is left with a gaping hole even after it’s completed.
I guess that's the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”
As for Hannah Baker, I tried my very best to connect with her just as Clay Jensen did. I hate to badmouth a dead person even if it’s just a book character but she was clearly a self-centered teenager not unlike the people she is accusing of being responsible for her death. She saw herself as someone who has a lot of love to offer (she wrote this really nice poem about it, page 177) but the truth is she has none to give because she did not care for herself first. Yes, the circumstances that happened and the people around her are mainly to blame but what I hated about Hannah was she did not even give a good fight before giving up. She willingly descended into despair instead and then staged this very elaborate revenge with the cassette tapes. She even added a detailed map and urged the unlucky thirteen to visit the marked places on the map so they can have a “full Hannah experience” and she had someone follow them around to check if they are really doing her bidding. So tell me if that’s not egocentric.

The book wanted to deliver an anti-bullying message, about how we should be mindful of our actions because even the smallest of gestures can start a deadly snowball rolling. It got that message across but you have to trudge through all that unsustainable narrative structure and Hannah’s self-destructing antics first. It’s just too bothersome and painful for me to read.

Diversity Watch:
As promised from my latest discussion post, I will list down and take note of the characters’ race and gender descriptions to get a general look of how diverse a book is. For “Thirteen Reasons Why” the only physical description for Hannah Baker in the book was that she is pretty with a long hair that she later cut short. There are a lot of names dropped in those cassette tapes. All are racially indeterminate. All mentioned romantic hookups are heterosexual in nature.

Photo: Netflix

Hannah and Clay are both white based on the poster. Here's a link with photos for the rest of the cast. I think they made it pretty diverse.
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