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13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

One day, back last spring, I was wandering through Barnes & Noble when I noticed a book called 13 Reasons Why. It was still in hardcover and I had absolutely no money to my name, but I desperately wanted to buy it. I picked it up, carried it around, and ended up putting it back before I left.

This summer, when I moved to Topeka, I checked 13 Reasons Why out of the library. I intended to read it, along with the other half-dozen books in the stack I checked out, but then school started and I just didn't have time. I returned it, reluctantly, and carried on my way.

Which meant that it was one of the first books I purchased for my Kindle.

13 Reasons Why is about a boy. A boy named Clay, who comes home from school one day and finds a package on his front porch, addressed to him. When he opens it, he discovers that it's a series of seven cassette tapes, their sides numbered. There's no note, no explanation, so he does what any teenage boy would: he pops one in his dad's tape deck and pushes play.

And discovers that the tapes are from a classmate. Not a big deal, right?

Except for the fact that, a few weeks earlier, that classmate had killed herself.

Through one night and seven tapes, Clay is lead on a journey. His friend's last journey, where he might find out the reasons why she killed herself.

I've read some difficult YA literature in the past. About death, about school shootings, about drugs and teen parenthood and everything else you can imagine, but nothing really holds a candle to this book.

Asher tells the story in part through Hannah's tapes, her retelling of all the events that led up to her killing herself, and through Clay's reactions, thoughts, and interactions while he's listening to the tapes. At first, the storytelling is way over-balanced towards Hannah's voice, but as the book progresses, Clay really comes into his own. He's sympathetic, and really, he is a boy through and through; one of my favorite aspects of the book was watching him come into his grief and acceptance of Hannah's death.

At times, though, I wanted a bit more meat on the bones of the narrative. Using Hannah as a storyteller is useful in that some of the more difficult scenes don't have to be written in graphic detail (for there are a few sexual encounters, as you'd expect in a book about teenagers), but at other times it falls flat. Important details feel glossed-over or tip-toed around, and the timeline ends up skewed; I, for instance, spent the first half the book trying to figure out what grade Clay and Hannah were in, because Hannah starts talking about freshman year and the logic leap that they're now juniors was never clearly marked. Other incidents, I simply would've wanted more information about, more than just what Hannah decided to tell -- but then again, I think half the point of the book was that it was Hannah's story. Details are left out, interrupted, and imperfect, colored by the girl telling the story.

Asher also completely avoids being bombastic or overwrought. All the emotions, the reactions, they feel incredibly real. Even Hannah, who I waffled on really liking, won be over in the end. I think that's the real gift of this book: it feels real. It feels like teenagers, like pain, like all the things it should. It feels right.

I like that in a book.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
Yes. To all of this.

I could have done without the whole Skye business -- oops, not gonna let two of my depressed crushes slip through the cracks -- because it seemed somehow cheap. But otherwise, I was so impressed by this book.

I read it all in one sitting tonight. I usually can't sit still that long.
May. 5th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC)
I think the Skye thing could've absolutely done better but I generally thought it was just an amazing book and it made me so, so happy.

Hey, since you like YA (I would assume, because you read this): have you ever read any of John Green's stuff? I have a feeling you would like him a lot. I reviewed Looking for Alaska in a mostly-spoiler-free way here, and many of his friends (and Green himself, who I sort of am slightly obsessed with) have basically said that his 2008 novel, Paper Towns, is about 300% better. And given that I loved Alaska.... Yeah. You might want to check him out. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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