Thirteen Reasons Why follows the story of Clay Jensen, an ordinary high school student, unwillingly tied up with the recent suicide of his classmate, and first crush Hannah Baker. After her death her “tapes” (listing the thirteen reasons why she decided to commit suicide) are distributed and mailed around to the thirteen people who are mentioned in the tapes. Jensen, as one of the recipients of the tapes, spends the evening listening to them- retracing Hannah’s steps throughout the town…eventually learning more about the girl who slipped away, out of his life.
Overall I had many, many problems with this book. There were a few positives, but the way the author addressed the serious topic of suicide and depression disturbed me and left me unnerved. Here are my own eight reasons why…
Negative aspects of this work:
1. Hannah Baker holds a very shallowly based argument for suicide.
A majority of the reasons for her suicide are connected to her romantic interactions with other males in the town, or her own reputation at stake. Although it is irrefutable that suicide/and or depression could be triggered by anything, societal problems being one of them, the story portrayed by the author struck me as if it was written by someone who had no idea of the weight of the topic they were discussing.
2. There was too much focus on males within the story.
Let me explain a little more, the males within the story were portrayed as the main instigators of most of Baker’s reasons for suicide. All of them also connected to her because of some romantic, or sexual exploitation turned rumor. Perhaps the author was trying to hint at the fact that males should be more aware of their actions towards others and how it affects them, but I still saw it as a sometimes anti-male tirade.
3. Some parts of the novel were incredibly unrealistic.
Much like the first point I made, other details in the story showed up as questionable. One of those is that Baker’s parents are never mentioned as being a source of help for her within the duration of the narrative. And what about the fact that the whole new town that she moved into seems so messed up, and against her? The fact that she seems unable to make new friends despite how charismatic and kind she is. This book definitely had a few plot holes, and things left unexplained- which did not help with the overall narration style taking place.
4. Uninspired story
Overall, you can tell that the author probably has had no personal experience with suicide or depression- as it shows through the work itself. And according to the author, it was inspired by audio tours that people take at museums, seeing artifacts, and listening to the story in place- not exactly the inspiration you would think would be needed to portray such a serious topic.
Don’t worry though…there are some positive aspects:
1. The author does a very good job of highlighting the idea that “it’s all a matter of perspective.”
No matter how trivial something may seem to you-that same thing, or action or thought may mean something entirely different for someone else based off of their own life experiences. Basically you don’t know the back story, so don’t be so quick to judge.
2. There is a very good portrayal of the ripple effect.
The author did a wonderful job in explaining and showing how one action may unwittingly set off a whole chain of events following, despite the connections being almost unseen to the people experiencing it.
3. There is very good characterization of the main person Clay Jensen.
The author did an incredibly realistic illustration of how he was reacting to the tapes. His immediate train of thought as he was visiting the places mentioned within the tapes. As the tapes explain back stories to people that he was completely unaware of. All of his reactions were incredibly relatable, and maybe even something I would do within his situation, allowing me to extend more empathy to his character. His emotion and anxiety was palatable, something completely tangible that you could almost feel as you were reading along.
4. There is a very good sense of “what if.”
The entirety of the story leaves you thinking about “what if.” And in turn makes you reflect about your own life and the “what ifs” present there.
Overall, the book’s negative aspects outweighed the positive for me, but it came as an easy read, with parts that left me with little bits of (sometimes shallow) introspection to mull over. Perhaps read it with these bits of commentary in mind, but don’t take it too seriously- after all, the author didn’t seem to take such controversial topics that way either.
-Sophia U., 11th grade