"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review #29: Th1rteen R3asons Why, by Jay Asher

I discovered this book via a CNN article about the most challenged books of 2012. (For the record, it was number 3, coming in one above Fifty Shades of Grey, and two behind the Captain Underpants series, which took top honors last year. See the entire list here.) My subversive side came out, and I requested from my local library (which, thankfully, doesn't listen to that nonsense), and I read it in two days.

The story begins in present tense, with high school student Clay receiving a package containing audio tapes. There's no note, no instructions, just seven tapes, each side numbered one through thirteen. Clay finds an old tape recorder in the garage, pushes play, and hears the voice of his friend Hannah Baker, who killed herself two weeks before the story begins. There are thirteen tapes, Hannah explains, because there are thirteen reasons for her suicide. Each tape references another person, and each person is charged with sending the package on.

Asher's style is very unusual, switching between Hannah's voice and Clay's reactions every few lines. In theory it shouldn't work, but it does, and brilliantly. Clay is slightly reminiscent of Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway, and I loved him for the man I hope he becomes. I vacillated between liking Hannah, feeling sorry for her, and wanting to smack some sense in to her. She tends to come across as a spoiled brat, but the more I think about her, the more I wonder if that brattiness was her trying to put up a brave front, even in her last words. I went in to this book worried that it was piggybacking on the crisis of the month (bullying), but Hannah's reasons are not related to bullying. At least, not in the same way the media is leading us to believe it's happening with Kids These Days.
My boss also read this book and felt like it glamorized suicide. I can see his point, but I disagree. I'm not Asher's target audience though, so I can't speak for how this book would make me feel were I a sixteen-year-old girl who has been made fun of for months and months. But I can say that I think that Th1rteen R3asons Why should be on every high school student's reading list. Every English class in every high school in the country should read this, and then they should discuss it. Open discussions, truthful discussions where kids feel safe to have actual conversations about the things that happen in the story, and then these kids' parents should read it, and it should be discussed some more.
Note: this is Asher's first book. I'm interested to see what he does next.

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