Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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Details & Summary:

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
Release Date: October 18th 2007
Pages: 288

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 to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

My thoughts…

Everyone has heard about Thirteen Reasons Why by now, the popular but highly controversial Netflix series brought to life by teen idol Selena Gomez. What many (non-bookworms) might not know is that Thirteen Reasons Why was already very popular in the bookworld when it was released…ten years ago, in 2007. It was a huge success and became a bestseller in no time, but I think it’s fair to say Jay Asher’s story didn’t reach the general public until the show was released by Netflix on 31st March 2017.

I’m telling you this because that’s exactly how it happened for me. I’d heard of Thirteen Reasons Why plenty of times and I’d seen it around the book community, but I didn’t plan on reading it any time soon. Watching Thirteen Reasons Why changed those plans. You can read my review for Thirteen Reasons Why (the Netflix series) on the blog.

I wanted to review this book as-is and not compare it with the Netflix series, but I found that to be impossible so I apologize for those of you who haven’t seen it.

The first thing that stood out to me was how different book-Hannah and show-Hannah are. I liked show-Hannah: I thought she was a smart, witty, sympathetic, and relatable teenage girl who unfortunately had to deal with a lot of bad stuff in her high school life. Book-Hannah? Not so much.

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I found it harder to sympathise with book-Hannah. Something about her “voice” didn’t feel right. In the book, she’s more–vindictive, I guess. I think this is very interesting considering the backlash the Netflix series has received for essentially promoting a “revenge story” connected to a girl’s suicide. Now, if you’ve read my review for the show, you know I don’t agree. I don’t think show-Hannah meant to hurt and ruin the lives of the people on the tapes. I think she wanted everyone to know just how much little, seemingly insignificant things and behaviours can lead to so much more.

You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything

But, book-Hannah? I’m not sure. Even though she said she forgave almost all of them for what they did, at times I thought she got too much “fun” (this is too harsh of a word, but I don’t know else how to explain it) out of creating these tapes. While I understand why she might feel that way (honestly, who doesn’t hate the people on those tapes?), I’m not happy about the message it sends out. I’m okay with show-Hannah warning people to think before they act because you never know what someone else is going through, but I’m not okay with book-Hannah.

Let’s move on to Clay. Book-Clay didn’t believe he deserved to be on those tapes. Not for a second. He also didn’t fully blame himself for Hannah’s death or for not being able to “save” her. Yes, he felt guilty for not trying harder, but that’s a normal reaction after losing someone you care about. You’re always going to wonder what you could’ve done in order to help them. The big difference is that show-Clay is too hard on himself and he idolizes Hannah a lot more than book-Clay does.

That’s why you did it. You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible

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Lastly, I want to briefly talk about the other characters. Aside from a couple of name changes and a character that doesn’t exist in the book (I’m so happy they created Jeff for the show!), they’re all very similar. Having said that, I don’t think I would’ve been able to connect or get a good feel of the side characters if I hadn’t seen the show. In the book, Clay listens to the tapes in one night and he barely interacts with anyone (aside from Tony, his mom, and Marcus). That makes it really hard to understand any of them as real people because you’re not given the interactions you need to judge their character. You’re essentially stuck with what Hannah tells you they’re like instead of finding out yourself, which I found ironic considering Hannah hated how everyone thought they knew her because of the rumours they’d heard.

I wanted people to trust me, despite anything they’d heard. And more than that, I wanted them to know me. Not the stuff they thought they knew about me. No, the real me. I wanted them to get past the rumors. To see beyond the relationships I once had, or maybe still had but that they didn’t agree with

I’m really glad the show dragged out the timeline so they could develop the side characters. I think it’s absolutely key to see how these characters act and interact with others (not just Hannah) before you judge them. Most of them were still pretty awful, yes, but they felt less “villain-y” and more like real, three-dimensional people in the show than they did in the book.

It’s hard to say what this review would’ve looked like if I hadn’t seen the show or if I’d read the book before the show. Honestly, I think I wouldn’t have liked it as much. Maybe not even at all. Without the images and voices of all the characters from the show in my head, I think I would’ve had a hard time connecting to the characters and the story. Above all, I think I wouldn’t have sympathised with Hannah as much as I did in the show and her message would’ve been lost on me.

Rating

4 thoughts on “Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  1. I haven’t watched the NetFlix show yet, but I totally agree with you on Hannah seeming a bit more ‘vindictive’ in the book!! It came across she was enjoying circulating the tapes amongst those who allegedly drove Hannah into taking her own life. I personally found her rather venomous, although as a plot, it’s well-done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t finished the show yet but I too found “show Hannah” to be a lot more relatable. She seemed like such a bright smart person who spiralled due to her mental Illness and these horrible events. Great review

    Liked by 2 people

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