The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Secrets and Lies (Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher
Razorbill 2007

Slightly late on the uptake - story of my life - but I have been looking forward to this for a while now. Goodreads reviews are hugely mixed and there has been a fair bit of controversy banded around.  So is the fuss justified we rightly ask?

Clay arrives home from school to a package on his doorstep.  The package has no sender or return address and contains 7 cassette tapes explaining the 13 reasons why Hannah Baker, Clay's schoolmate and object of his affections, chose to end her life.  The tapes are being sent on a "round robin" to each of the people involved in the reasons for Hannah's decision, meaning that Clay knows almost from the opening of the book that he has, in some way, contributed to the suicide of a friend. And the vast majority of this book is simply the reader listening in real time as Clay hears these tapes for the first time.

And I loved this.  The reader is given next to no context to this story - we know very little of Clay and all we know of Hannah is really what she chooses to divulge from her own perspective.  The reader is essentially a voyeur to one night that changes Clay's life, after which we are left to draw our own conclusions as to how he has been affected by what he has learned.  So what has he learned? What could a teenage girl believably have thought of as justification to take her own life?  Well, as you may have expected from a teenage girl and to avoid any specific spoilers, a lot to do with friends, or the lack of, boys and the way she is perceived by others.  At the time of reading each "tape", I remember clearly thinking that a fair few of the 13 reasons when considered in isolation were ridiculous.  But considering, as Hannah calls it, "the snowball effect", suddenly I was completely invested and convinced of the downward spiral of this poor girl.  Factor in the helplessness of Clay who is hearing Hannah's reasoning for the first, and voice for the last, time, the effect is pretty unique and utterly entrancing.

And so to one of the more controversial discussions points, the elephant in the room.  There are bloggers, publishers, parents and others who believe, in some cases very loudly, that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide.  I disagree.  Whist I can see that Hannah being our narrator, and a very eloquent one at that, along with the odd manic-pixie-dreamgirl trait would have some people think she is exuding control from the great beyond, I don't think this is a glorification of her choice. Hannah had a story to tell that, for many reasons, she didn't have the opportunity to tell in life and so chose to tell it afterwards.  As she says herself, the tapes are not about revenge, she has forgiven almost all who are mentioned in them, they are about the chance to be heard and it is so important for us to remember that that is the one thing so many in similar circumstances do not feel they have.  To suggest that anyone, even a fictitious character, does not have the right to share their story with the world after taking a decision which was theirs and no one elses, I can't help but think would send a dangerous message, a message that would read, "You made the choice so your story doesn't matter".

For me, Thirteen Reasons Why isn't primarily a book about suicide.  It's a story of grief and acceptance and acknowledgement, the acknowledgement that our actions, however small, directly affect all of those around us and we must use them wisely.  But, mild controversy aside, a really strong read.  I enjoyed it greatly.  It's accessible without being simple and thought-provoking without being preachy (which I am aware I have more than made up for with this review).  Proof that a small leading cast of really well written characters along with some fantastic scene setting gets you far. Good work Mr A, looking forward to reading your other offerings soon.    

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph.  Who is worried that she's been a bit ranty.  But we believe it's an articulate and interesting rant. So, er, there.


back to top