Book Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

13 Reasons Why NOT

I recently read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher at the recommendation of someone at my local bookstore. Without giving too much away I can tell you that the book is about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes with the 13 reasons why she killed herself, on them. Needless to say I was less than impressed and here are the 13 reasons why.

  1. Anonymous: The book jumps right in and immediately starts off the first chapter with the tapes. As a reader, I had zero connection with Hannah at this point, and I literally felt no sympathy for her at all. Without the character development that would have been useful if there were at least 2-3 chapters about her before she killed herself, I simply could not relate to her and the trivial events that led to her suicide. This book would have been 10x better if the author had allowed us to get to know Hannah better before she died, so we would have an investment in her, and what happens to her. With her already being gone at the beginning, it’s almost makes it harder to care about her because I already knew her fate.
  2. Annoying: The format of the book was confusing and difficult to read. Hannah’s voice on the tapes are written in italics, while the main character, Clay’s thoughts are interspersed in regular font. Sometimes I wouldn’t notice that the font changed between italic and regular and would confuse Hannah’s voice with Clay’s. This made it super annoying because I would have to keep going back to re-read what I just read!
  3. Antagonizing: Hannah’s tapes come of sounding more like she killed herself out of anger, than depression, just to get revenge on the people she was mad at and to make them feel bad after she died. It just seemed like it was too orchestrated and planned out, rather than a last minute resort to escape the pain.
  4. Unrealistic: Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide just don’t seem realistic, and almost makes light of the very real events that lead to a person choosing to end their own life. I grew up on the reserve, and we have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of Canada. There are 12, 13, and 14 year olds choosing to end their life in my community, and people even younger than that, like 6 and 7 year olds committing suicide in Indigenous communities up north. Suicide is not something I take lightly, and reading about the trivial events that lead to Hannah’s suicide made me feel like the author was presenting suicide as a viable option when regular teenage experiences start to happen to you.
  5. Ripple effect: I just found it so dumb and hated the idea that someone who took their own life would decide to try to cause other people the same pain and suffering that they went through. With the tapes Hannah leaves behind, it could potentially cause a ripple effect and cause other characters in the book to commit suicide as well. If I knew I was one of the reasons someone decided to kill themselves, I would feel so bad I’d probably think about killing myself too. Hannah could have inspired a chain reaction of suicides in her town, and myself, having lived on the reserve and witnessed first-hand the effects of suicide in my community, can safely say that if one of our young people killed themselves and left tapes like this, the consequences would be much more public and far-reaching.
  6. Sexualizing: There were so many parts where this book made me cringe harder than I ever have before, due to the blatant sexualization of Hannah, by the main character Clay, who’s supposed to be the only stand-up good guy in her school. I thought this was doing more damage because it made me dislike not only Hannah, but Clay’s character as well. Here’s an example of one such occasion on page 40 of my copy. Hannah’s voice on the tapes says, “Truth is, Jessica Davis is so much prettier than I am. Write up a list of every body part and you’ll have a row of checkmarks the whole way down for each time her body beats mine.” and then Clay thinks, “I disagree, Hannah. All the way down.” I mean, EW! Gross, even the way Clay thinks is creepy.
  7. Glamorizing: This book 100% makes suicide look like something you can do if you want to become immortalized. On page 97 Clay admits that he shouldn’t be listening to these morbid, exploitive, tapes, but he justifies his actions by saying he’s living out Hannah’s last requests. She did this to be remembered and become immortalized. These are not the final actions of someone who can’t bear to live any longer. They’re revenge, and the suicide was used as a tool to get attention.
  8. Incriminating: It’s clear that Hannah has a personal vendetta against all the people she names on the tapes and uses them to make a diatribe against everyone. Her tone is consistently sarcastic and immature at best and it almost comes across as though she wants someone to release the tapes because it would literally implicate everyone listed on them. Suicide is a very serious subject and is not taken lightly in a court of law. Those who are involved could face serious criminal charges, and I feel like Hannah knew this and made the tapes, then kill herself just to get revenge, which undermines the real suffering that suicide victims go through. Here are but a few examples of Hannah’s sarcastic tone:
    1. p. 93, Referring to Courtney Crimsen: “You’re definitely one of the most popular girls in school. And you…are…just…so…sweet. Right? Wrong.
    2. p. 120, “Do you remember those career surveys we had to fill out freshman year, the ones that were supposed to help us choose electives? According to my survey, I’d make a wonderful lumberjack. And if that career didn’t workout, I could use my fallback career as an astronaut. An astronaut or a lumberjack? Seriously? Thanks for the help.
    3. p. 182, “‘Expose yourself,’ they said. ‘Let us see your deepest and darkest.’ My deepest and darkest? What are you, my gynaecologist?’ Hannah.”
  9. Convenient: The book is written in the most annoyingly convenient and blatantly obvious way! Every new location that Hannah mentions in her tapes, Clay just happens to be around the corner from. Example, page 62 “I’ve only been to Monet’s a few times but I think it’s on the street the bus is going down now.” and on page 101, “D-4. It’s only a handful of blocks from Tyler’s house.” Like make it a little more difficult or just don’t even try and pretend. So pointless.
  10. The writing: Let’s face it, the writing itself is just horrible and so awkward. Some examples, “More girls have dumped him out of car envy than my lips have ever kissed.” *cringe* or “Maybe I’ll get lucky! Maybe there will be a sign posted in his yard. PEEPING TOM — COME INSIDE. I can’t stifle a laugh at my own lame joke.” *lame indeed Clay* or “If you ever caught me reading one of those teen magazines, I swear; it wasn’t for the makeup tips. It was for the surveys. Because you never wore makeup, Hannah. You didn’t need it.” *bleh*
  11. Characters: Is there supposed to be a likeable character in this book, or any character AT ALL?! Every person is either so bland that they have no interesting traits, or they killed themselves or made someone else kill them-self. It’s all just a bunch of trivial jerks (including Hannah) who are given little to no background story at all.
  12. Message: In the Q&A section at the end of my book, the author said that the message he wanted to send with this book is that people should be nice to each other because you never know what’s going on with another person. I don’t think this message came across clearly enough, and it could have been made more clear that this is the message. Most of the characters in the book, other than Clay, don’t even seem remorseful one bit about what happened to Hannah, and it just made me sad for the human race.
  13. Thirteen Reasons: It seems like the author, who is indeed an older male writing about the high school experiences of a female teenager, just didn’t quite grasp the things that would lead someone to killing themselves. I’ve taken quite a few suicide intervention trainings (ASIST 3 times, and SAFETALK 2 times) and have had to use this training twice to help a friend who was having thoughts of suicide. I’m not saying that what Hannah went through doesn’t happen. I’m sure it does, just that it wasn’t enough for me to believe that someone would want to kill themselves afterward. For these 13 reasons, I did not like this book, but I can see how it has opened up a conversation about suicide that wasn’t happening before so there are some benefits to it. This book just wasn’t for me.

Note: I did start watching the Netflix original series of 13 Reasons Why and it is a huge improvement on the book. It actually does some character development and I can see why people like the show.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  1. I only watched the tv show, and the only characters that I actually thought were good people were Tony, Jeff, and Clay (I heard Jeff wasn’t even in the book). I could believe that the character development in the book probably was lacking. Awesome review!! ♥

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