Sunday, February 05, 2012

Book 7: Thirteen Reasons Why

"My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it.  Sometimes more than I can handle.  And it's not just mine.  Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own.  The beautiful ones.  The popular ones.  The guys that pick on you.  Everyone."  Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3 "Earshot"
I picked this up after seeing several positive reviews on the Cannonball Read site (both III and IV).  While I can see where it might raise some good discussions about suicide for the teens, and understand why it would therefore be as praised as it is, overall, the book just didn't quite do it for me.  There was something about it that was just too shallow, and I actually quite disliked Hannah, the girl that killed herself.  I basically just wanted to point her to the above quote from Buffy and tell her that other people have pain too - in fact at least one of the people on her list of reasons why had reasons to be in more pain than Hannah yet Hannah blames that girl for her suicide.
Clay Jenson is the novel's narrator, and he receives a mysterious package one day when he gets home from school.  The package contains seven cassettes, and he soon discovers they contain recordings from Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently killed herself, detailing her reasons why.  As she explains there are thirteen reasons, and each person receiving these tapes is one of these thirteen.  The tapes will circulate in order, otherwise, a second copy of the cassettes will be passed to the public and reveal everyone's secrets.  Clay who worked with Hannah, and had a crush on her, naturally wonders what he may have done to be one those tapes, and the only thing he can really come up with is that he didn't reach out or speak to her enough.  He has to listen to the tapes to find out the reason, though.
Honestly, as Hannah even admits, the first few people targeted didn't even necessarily do anything that bad - however, their small actions led to rumors about her and left her with a certain reputation: the boy that kissed her, and exaggerated exactly what had happened to his friends; the boy that put her own a "who's hot, who's not" list, thus making the boys at school sexualize her, all things that added up to more.  While she describes some incidents about how this reputation hurt her (a guy that sexually harrassed her, another who assumed he might get some action on a date with her), I don't feel like the author quite convinced me that her life was that bad.  I understand that suicide isn't logical, and that teenagers will think things are worse than they are, but I felt like it would have worked better for me if Hannah had elaborated more on her reputation and how that affected how people treated her rather than just alluding to her reputation and how everything snowballed.  She at one pont mentions that there were over three dozen names of people that had wronged her, but only these thirteen were linked.  Maybe if she had alluded to incidents with these other twenty people, it would have felt like more of an explanation for her suicide rather than a revenge plot.
The book also didn't go where I expected it would given how Hannah spends the first half of the novel showing how boys treat her based on her perceived reputation.  While Hannah says that her life got so bad she couldn't think of any other solution, in the long run, it seems like her suicide was more about revenge against perceived and actual wrongs.  Hannah herself is not always likable, and the action that appears to be her breaking point wasn't actually anything that happened to her.  In fact, it was a case where she did exactly what she's accusing everyone else of doing to her: not being supportive, not thinking about how her small actions could affect others, being too self-involved to notice another individual's pain.
As much as I disliked Hannah and her choices, I understand that suicide is a big deal.  We have quarterly training on it where I work to ensure that people can recognize the warning signs.  We're given cards to carry around with the acronym ACE to remind us what to do when we run into someone that we suspect is suicidal (Ask, Care, Escort).  Basically, I'm glad if this opens up discussions for high schoolers, and I understand that the reasons why often might not make sense to outsiders; still, I wish I could have cared more for Hannah, and that Asher had made a flawed character towards whom I could have felt more empathy and sympathy than I did.

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