I read “Thirteen Reasons Why” for the first time over Christmas break 2015. Here is my initial review:
I officially finished this book at 1:30 AM on 12/30/2015. Fyi, that is not a good time to finish this book. There are a lot of deep questions that this book leaves you to ponder. Long story short, I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. This book opens up on topics that are rarely discussed, but are of huge importance to our generation. It contains mild language (a lot less than The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) and some sensuality (it is never looked at in a good way though). Overall this book is very thought provoking. It is a story that shows wrong choices and missed opportunities that could have saved a life (on both Hannah and Clay’s part), and it ends with an encouragement to do better at reaching out to others.
This book is for: People looking for ways to notice if an individual is depressed/suicidal.
This book is not for: Anyone who is the least bit suicidal. I do not feel as if this book condemns suicide enough. If you are, please find help immediately. I also advise against anyone with a weak stomach reading this book. Some of the things discussed are disturbing enough to make someone with a weak stomach throw up.
That being an extremely sloppy and generic review, I decided to reread the book before the release of the Netflix series of the same name. While last time I read the book leisurely, this time I read it critically. After three days of reading, I finished with almost 300 highlights and notes, definitely too much for this spoiler-free review. So without further ado, here is my Christian teen perspective on Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why”.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” centers around the characters Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. At the beginning of the novel, Clay receives a box of cassette tapes labeled 1-13. When he plays the first one, he is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah Baker, his crush who recently committed suicide. The tapes take him on a journey around town and through Hannah’s final thoughts and experiences that led her to take her own life.
The narrative in this novel is extremely unique, as it bounces back and forth from Hannah to Clay. What makes it even more unique is the fact that both narratives are in first person (Hannah in italics and Clay in regular text). The divisions are also unique, because there are no official chapters. Instead, each side of each cassette tape functions as a dividing title.
Overall, “Thirteen Reasons Why” is a heavy read that deals with extremely sensitive and stigmatized topics. It is not a read for those with weak stomachs or easily disturbed emotions. I would recommend the book to anyone who is looking for a serious fiction on these topics, but I would not recommend it to anyone who may find themselves suicidal in the near future as this may only further trigger suicidal emotions.
This count includes variations and uses of the words that may not be considered swearing. For example, “Thank God” or “Take these straight to hell”.
A**: 18 (virtually always used anatomically during one particular serious incident)
This book is 100% f-bomb free, which I consider simply amazing for a Secular Young Adult Mystery dealing with several serious and stigmatized topics. Compared to many other books of the same genre, this book is extremely light on cursing. That is a huge plus.
Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol
This book deals with several extremely heavy issues. That includes rape, sexual assault, drunk driving, and suicide. That being said, there are a few instances where the book describes these incidents (e.g. a girl’s butt is grabbed, this girl is inappropriately touched on two other occasions, and there is another girl who’s abused while passed-out drunk). I would like to point out though, that none of these are looked at in a positive light. However, I advise caution with “Cassette 6: Side B”, as this tape does describe the final snapping incident in detail (pages 164-165).
As this book centers around a suicide initially caused by rumors, there are many off-color references. Again, these are not looked at in a positive light. Also, there is one sketchy joke made on page 119. The good thing is, you won’t understand it unless you know the meaning of the word gynecologist!
Alcohol is also used on a few occasions throughout the book (mainly at the parties that become tipping points in the development of Hannah’s suicidal intentions). It is never out-right condemned, but consequences are shown throughout the novel (specifically toward the end). Other than alcohol, I did not notice any drug use aside from a quick mention of people smoking and references to Hannah’s suicide by pills.
- Despite being a book centered around self-murder, the word “suicide” is only used nine times. The scarcity of the word makes its increasing use toward the end extremely powerful.
- Throughout the book there is a lack of detailed description until the last few chapters. Being the kind of person who detests lengthy descriptions, I enjoyed that. The descriptions do increase toward the end of the book though, which makes the final scenes very palpable and real against the backdrop of the rest of the novel. The one scene I distinctly remember from my initial reading was “Cassette 7: Side A”. I specifically remember this description: “I scoot backward across the platform and lean against the metal steering wheel. Above the tree line, the half-moon is almost too bright to look at.” The emotions built up in that chapter and the simple yet powerful description combine to form the perfect storm for a classic and memorable scene.
- While reading the book, I found it extremely engaging to look for signs of Hannah’s suicidal intentions as the months and weeks leading up to it are described. There are several scattered throughout the book with some never being pointed out down the road. I have compiled my own list, and I’ll leave you to compile your own.
- I believe that “Thirteen Reasons Why” is also a critique of the public education system, specifically its failure to help suicidal teens. Toward the beginning, in “Cassette 2: Side A”, Clay points out that Mr. Porter was only supposed to be a temporary guidance counselor. To emphasize the point, it’s repeated: “An English teacher as well as a guidance counselor.” While this fact is pointed out later on in the novel, this is the first place it is mentioned. I believe the book speaks for itself on the problem with this one.
- “You can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have is…now.”
- “Normally, when a person has a stellar image, another person’s waiting in the wings to tear them apart. They’re waiting for that one fatal flaw to expose itself.”
- “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.”
- “You can hear rumors. But you can’t know them.”
- “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”
- “In the end….everything matters.”
“Thirteen Reasons Why” should not be read without the intent to change. To stop spreading rumors. To stop being afraid. To stop being apathetic. This is an extremely dark novel, but it does not leave us without hope. The hopelessness of the first 99% of the book makes the hope of the last 1% even brighter. There is still time to change. We need to remember this sad fact: “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.” May we, as Christians, live lives that encourage others. May we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ without fear. May we seek to be a light in this dark and depressed world.