I believe that Sherman Alexie’s quote on the cover of this book is the perfect description of this haunting masterpiece:
“A mystery, eulogy, and ceremony.”
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that depressing death novels are usually not my cup of tea. I just don’t like reading books that will either make me cry or feel terrible. But there’s always a few exceptions, such as The Fault in our Stars and The Goldfinch. Today, I’ll be adding Thirteen Reasons Why to that list.
There are two main reasons why this book about teen suicide was compelling to me:
- It was a mystery. A murder mystery, in fact. Even though it was ruled as a suicide, there were still accomplices to the crime. In a twisted way, I guess you can say that the thirteen suspects should be charged with second degree murder. They may not have stuffed the pills down her throat, but they basically put them in her hand. The mystery aspect of this novel keeps us going, trying to Nancy Drew the presented story to satisfy our own need to help poor Hannah Baker.
- The unique nature of Asher’s storytelling. If this story just began with Hannah’s death and then Clay just decides that he’s going to figure out why she died (without the tapes… pretend those tapes never existed), this story would be too similar to other teen suicide story. It’s THE TAPES that make the difference; unique! The fact that Hannah planned her suicide, but waited until she finished recording the tapes before she did it, is just shocking. She wants to tell her story after she’s already dead; she wants to explain why, placing the blame where necessary. Making the thirteen people listen to the tapes is a cruel an unusual punishment, but you feel a small sense of justice for Hannah because of it. The reader gets to solve the mystery of her murder/suicide at the same time that Clay does. It’s just so moving and fluid!
Speaking of fluidity, I just have to say how much I loved the connections made between the thirteen accused. I like how Hannah admits that there are technically more people who could be blamed, but their roles weren’t as significant; that they didn’t connect as drastically as the thirteen. Her story flows beautifully, taking Clay and the reader on a journey. On thirteen short tapes, we get the sense that we’ve known Hannah for just as long as the others have… like we were there on her first day of school, or at that park after she moved to town. Even though she’s dead, you still feel drawn and connected to her. Her story is so neatly told, especially when Hannah elegantly circles back to people on later tapes. I thought these moments would be jumbled and confusing, but people pop back up in a clean, compelling way.
Last but not least, I have to give Asher credit for his amazing characters. Even the people that you only meet for a handful of pages are extremely well rounded and interesting. But of course, the thirteen are the most addictive to hear from or about. You can’t help but hate most of them for what they did to Hannah, but at moments there are some that you also pity despite their crimes (of course I’m only referring to the ones who did things that can be typically seen as adolescent and usual in high school, such a jealousy or a rumor that snowballed out of control… of course we blame them for Hannah, but we also feel bad because the consequences were for more severe than a usual spat of jealousy or rumor. I’m not saying what they did was okay by any means, it’s just that bullying and jealous fighting/revenge is unfortunately typical in high school settings). Of course, a peeping tom and rape are things I’d NEVER forgive. But these characters were just as compelling as the rest. Even though I hated them, I wanted to read more about them. I feel disgusting for saying it, but it’s the truth: these characters really made Hannah’s story interesting, and therefore heartbreaking. I would never wish these types of characters on someone in reality, but in a book… well, it makes a good storyline.
I don’t want to give away anything else. You need to discover the thirteen reasons for yourself, and how each one of them played a role in Hannah’s death. To spoil it would be terrible of me!
I also hope you read the book before watching the Netflix series. It just seems like it would be better this way. But if you’ve already seen it, I hope you still take the time to read it! You won’t regret it!
Happy reading Book Babies!