Monday, 8 January 2018

THIRTEEN REASON WHY - by Jay Asher

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY - Jay Asher
Published: 2017 - by Penguin (Film Tie-In)
Pages: 320.
Genres: Young adult / contemporary / realistic fiction
Triggers/Content Advisory: Sexual innuendo / one graphic rape scene / strong suicide triggers
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Penguin SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.  
You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play. Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did - and Clay is one of them. If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list - what he hears will change his life forever.

This is a review I've dreaded having to write. I have an intense and strong opinion of the TV series (long story short, I hate it) and now I have to review an extremely controversial book with my own controversial opinions.
But please note, if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, I very strongly recommend that you do not read this book. In my case, I personally found the book extremely triggering and detrimental.


(Review contains spoilers)


To start with the basics, I think the writing is weak. It's amateurish and uninspired, and the two POV style (Clay and Hannah's) is extremely confusing and hard to follow.  It's hard when Hannah's telling her story but we keep getting interrupted by Clay's own thoughts and his present-day situation. Hannah's perspective is distinguished in italics, but that doesn't make it any easier to read.

The characters are flat and boring. I don't like anyone, with the exception of Jessica whom I actually felt sorry for. I did feel for Hannah, too - of course - but she was still extremely hard to like. I ended up furious with her.

Now onto the controversial stuff. And if you're struggling with suicidal thoughts and mental issues, please read on with care. This could be unsettling. 
I'm gonna break down my reasons for why I hate this book so much and why I think it's harmful. 

1: Hannah's character / I think Hannah Baker is a despicable, Mary-Sue-esque character. Her whole mission of sending the tapes is bullying in itself, and that makes her no better than some of the kids she blames in the tapes. She ruins thirteen lives in the most malicious, nasty way possible, and some of the teens she includes in the tapes - like Clay and Jessica - do not, I believe, even belong there. Especially not Clay; to put him through that is extremely cruel.
And then there's the scene where Jessica is raped. Now, I can understand why a drunk and distressed Hannah might not intervene (it makes twisted sense, however wrong it is that she didn't.) But Hannah's attitude is that it's all about her and how it affects her, instead of worrying or caring about Jessica and what she might be going through. She even sends Jessica the tapes and lists her as one of her reasons! That's just messed up. Can you imagine how horrific it must be for Jessica to endure that, after what she went through? Jessica's the real victim here, not Hannah. 

2: Hannah's reasons / They are not all on the same level of wrong. Some of them just seem plain petty. There's bullying, and then there's rape, and those are not on the same scale. To be fair, I think that the rumours and "bullying" were just harmless nonsense spurting from immature, stupid teens, and sure, they weren't nice, but it's high school and that rubbish happens. To hold some idiotic teens responsible for Hannah killing herself? That's ridiculous.
As for the sexual assault and rape, that should've been handled way differently. No one should have been on those stupid tapes. Hannah handled that completely wrong. Those accusations needed to go somewhere different, and Bryce's actions needed to be publicized in a whole different way. 

3: Mental health rep? None / Suicide is not as black and white as this book makes it out to be, and if Hannah does indeed suffer from mental issues it's never touched upon - which it should be for the whole situation to be portrayed accurately. She thinks and plans far too logically for someone who'd be contemplating killing herself, and that in itself points to the fact that Asher is writing this like it's all a big, romantic game. Heck, it isn't. This book makes it out to be too straightforward, and suicide is never straightforward.

4: Romanticism of suicide / You don't turn into a saint when you kill yourself. You're not put on a pedestal and remembered forevermore. Yet this book makes suicide out to be this attractive, romantic way out that you can take, and get attention while you're at it. This is extremely triggering, and has already led to horrifying real-life suicides of people who've been taken in by the book's/show's message, some of whom have even left tapes behind like Hannah did. It's just pure evil. 

5:  Condoning revenge suicide / This book is based on the ideology that other people can be blamed and held responsible for you deciding to kill yourself. I think that idea is toxic. In the end, no one is to blame for you taking your own life because suicide is a choice you make. We can't all be stepping on eggshells around people because we're terrified we might push them over the edge. To say we should - or we should've - is a huge burden to lay on someone, especially in the aftermath of a suicide. Yes, people's actions could influence someone in the breakdown of them not wanting to live anymore, but to say that they're to blame for the person eventually killing themselves? That' a huge leap. 

6: Insensitivity / There are strong, mature, tragic themes in this book, and yet I feel like the author takes them.....jokingly. The lighthearted way these topics are thrown around in the story is shocking. Especially towards the start, it feels like Asher is actually having fun reveling in these dark themes. It's horrifyingly insensitive.

7: Lack of hope / This is why I don't think people suffering from mental health issues/ struggling with suicidal thoughts should read this book. It gives no answers in dealing with suicide, it doesn't encourage going to authority figures for help, and it certainly doesn't give you options other than "kill yourself". It's devoid of hope. It's numbingly pointless.




Thirteen Reasons Why is badly written with flat characters, a confusing two POV writing style, and it insensitively and sloppily handles important issues such as suicide. I disagree with the message that comes across, and I feel very strongly that, if anything, this book does more harm than good. 


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