Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

I just started and finished my first book for this month.  And if you exclude the moments I took to make myself some mint tea, and later to eliminate it, I read this book through in one sitting.  Or more precisely, one lounging.  Th1rteen R3asons Why is told in almost a call and response style (if you know gospel music or have heard any traditional Congolese songs, or if you've ever participated in a Roman Catholic or Anglican mass, you've experienced this), with Hannah Baker initiating the call and Clay Jensen picking up the response.  Hannah is the new girl at school who has just committed suicide.  But she is still very much a presence in the lives of at least 14 of her surviving classmates. You see, Hannah has left behind a collection of audio tapes in which she lists the thirteen reasons why she killed herself, each reason connected to a name.  One day Clay receives a mysterious box in the mail with said cassette tapes tucked inside, with the instructions to listen to them and pass them along to the person named after him on the tapes--and that's, of course, where the story takes off. 

Interesting conceit, no?  And Asher pulls it off remarkably well.  The story moves along at a brisk pace, and each time he turns over a cassette and pushes play, Clay both dreads and anticipates hearing his own name and the role he unwittingly played in her downward spiral towards suicide.  I probably would have responded a tad more positively to this book if I hadn't read all of the accolades it has received since being published last year in cloth, but I felt there were times when the book fell a little flat--where the teen dialogue and interactions didn't quite ring true.  Or at least not as true as other books I've recently read, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson or Big Girl Small.  And it was less affecting to me personally than Julie Anne Peters' fine novel, By the Time You Read This I'll Be Dead

Still, I did essentially read it in one sitting, and since the reader knows at the beginning that poor Hannah kills herself, there is none of that angsty will-she-or-won't-she feeling as you're reading, so one can concentrate more on the story and less on anticipating the ending.  This book is far more about the effect of Hannah's death on Clay, and to a lesser extent Tony, the poor boy who has been entrusted with a second set of tapes, instructed to go public with them if the 13 people Hannah names on the tapes don't follow through with her last request.  One fervently hopes that the remaining 12 classmates come away from their listening experience changed, but Asher doesn't go there, and it is, sadly, unrealistic to hold too dearly to that hope. This is, of course, a book about unintended consequences and repercussions and being careless with other people's sense of self.  It is, in short, a book worth reading, and I give big kudos to those teachers in our community who have already read this book and assigned it for summer reading!

~Emily Crowe

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