To be clear, this is a review of the stand-alone book Thirteen Reasons Why, not the newly popularized Netflix series which I haven’t seen yet. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word, but I was very underwhelmed by the novel. Sure, it was an easy-to-follow, fast-paced read, but I expected much more than what was in those pages. This is not to say that I won’t watch the show (which I have a feeling will be equally subpar), but let’s just say that I’m not recommending this story as a “good read” from a literary perspective. Here’s why:
1) I hated the structure. Hannah’s voice is constantly interrupted by Clay’s thoughts and dialogue. Throughout the book, this drove me absolutely crazy—particularly when Clay’s musings had nothing to do with the progress of the story. The only tell-tale sign of who is speaking at the time is that Hannah’s “voice” is in italics. Great, but when you have a page where every other line is in italics, you kinda just wanna throw the book across the room in frustration. Lucky for me, I’m a first-time mommy which means that breaking my Nook device is simply not in budget.
2) This has been floating around the internet, and I’m sorry that I have to agree … this book unabashedly glamorizes teen suicide. The lack of sensitivity when it comes to the subject of suicide as well as the injections of dry humor throughout the story do nothing to show the severity of the situation. In many ways, it felt like a “how to”—how to (incorrectly) deal with your bullies, how to feel as if you “got even” with the world (even though you didn’t), how to end your suffering in a way that people will never forget.
3) We don’t really know Hannah, and that’s part of the insensitivity of the novel. As far as what’s presented to the reader, Hannah commits suicide because she was bullied. Well, I don’t buy it. Believe me, I’m not heartless or ignorant. I don’t take this subject matter lightly. I understand that bullying can be a traumatizing experience, especially for a young adult, but the subject of her mental state was never touched upon. There are a few insignificant references to her life before moving to her new town—how things wouldn’t be like before and how she could start over with a clean slate. This hints that there were things going on prior to starting her new school. I think it’s safe to say that these things are probably integral to the story and the deterioration of her mental state, yet they are never elaborated upon. I don’t sense grief or despair or any of the hard-hitting emotions that the novel should certainly have dove into.
4) What the reader DOES learn about Hannah is that she is self-absorbed, whiny, hypocritical, selfish, and calculating. I understand that you can’t possibly love every character in every book, but it’s surprising that Asher expects us to feel sympathy for such an unlikable character … and I guess that’s ultimately what it comes down to—she’s a “character”. There is none of the depth and substance that would make the reader see her as a person, someone to relate to and have sympathy for.
5) The blame game. I know bullying is very real. I know suicide (especially teen suicide) is very real. Perhaps one can motivate the other, but the two are mutually exclusive. Forgive me for saying that our “protagonist” did not commit suicide simply because she was bullied. Her bullying contributed to her already damaged psyche, which then lead to her suicide. So while the bullying was certainly a factor, it was not the sole cause. As I said before, Asher did a poor job of digging into Hannah’s mental state and emotional health. This would’ve made the story more believable, relatable, and, dare I say, more likable. As it stands, the book is mediocre at best. While some praise it for its ability to encourage conversation about taboo subjects, I don’t believe that it does so in a constructive way.
Finally, allow me one tiny PSA. To anyone going down this dark path, please get help. Please. Taking your own life like the girl in this novel does not punish your enemies. It does not allow you to get even with your tormentors. It crushes the people that love you. My little sister is going to college this year and something like this would absolutely destroy me. I know it’s a difficult thing to do, but consider the people you love before making an irreversible decision. They can help you! Likewise, to those on the other side of the coin, if you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to get someone the help that they need on a hunch. Even if you’re wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry.