Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Thirteen Reasons Why"--Book Review

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

I debated about reviewing this book. I stumbled upon it on a blog somewhere, and it sounded intriguing. A book about teen suicide. This is not an easy subject. The blog where I found mention of this book said something about being afraid the book would encourage suicide. I can see why he'd have that fear. The girl who has killed herself, Hannah, finds an interesting way to reach the people she blames--she leaves a set of cassette tapes behind telling the stories of the people who hurt her the most, with instructions that the tapes be delivered to those people in the order in which they appear in her story. I can see why there would be worry that a teen contemplating suicide would think this is a cool way to get back at those who dumped on him/her. But read on in the book, and you see how the story may give someone considering suicide second thoughts.

I must give fair warning, as I would guess that most of the people reading my blog at this point are Christian. Some of you are teens. Some of you have teen children. This book is not written from a Christian perspective--at least there is not mention of Christianity, or spirituality of any kind. And it portrays teens realistically. There is cussing, sex, drinking. Not glorified, though. Actually, the two protagonists in the book are good kids. They want to do what is right. But they do not live in a bubble. And every bit of it, no matter how graphic (not horribly so, but I would read this before letting a young teen read it) is relevant.

It's relevant. That is what made me decide to go ahead and review this book. Thirteen Reasons Why. Thirteen reasons Hannah decided to kill herself, and each of those reasons has a name. Each of them is a person from her school who has hurt her. She doesn't give them all the blame, but she details out their roles in her decision. She records her story on cassette tapes during her last days, and mails them off to the first person on the list, with instructions for the tapes to be passed on, one by one, to the others.

Imagine now that you are Clay, who knew Hannah, liked Hannah, and you have no recollection of ever doing anything to hurt her. Ever. And you come home to find a shoebox full of cassette tapes on your doorstep. You have no idea where you fall in her story. You pop in the first tape and begin to listen....

Hannah was a girl who wanted to be liked. To be loved. To have someone care about her. She wanted to be accepted. Not talked about behind her back. Isn't that all of us? Maybe we all deal with a little gossip about ourselves, and people who bully us. But what if you felt like there was not one single person out there who cared?

What if there was someone who cared very much, but you never knew because that person never spoke up and told you so? Would you do what Hannah did? Would you take that road? Would you blame the people who didn't step up?

See, this is a two-way street.

One way--We have a responsibility to show people we care. They can't always ask. Sometimes they've been burned and hold back. But we are ALL insecure to some degree. I was really shy growing up. I always assumed that if someone wanted to talk to me they would come talk to me. But years of experience has told me that I'm not the only shy person in the world! There are loads and loads of people who are insecure, just like I was, and still am. Maybe if someone had been less insecure, less afraid of being burned themselves, Hannah would have had something, someone, to cling to and not done what she did.

The other way--Hannah could have gone to someone straight-up with her feelings rather than playing games. She did try to trust people. She opened up in search for friendship, but when she got burned, she added bricks to the wall she was building around herself. She hinted. She implied, but she never told anyone what was going through her head. Maybe if she had told one person how desperate she felt...but that is so hard. So, so hard.

I think this book speaks to readers without preaching. Maybe if the author--and I have no idea if he is Christian or not--had added a bit of spirituality the book would not have had the same impact. Kids would read it and think, "Well, Hannah should have just turned to Jesus, and she'd be fine. He loves her." That is true, but it's not the whole truth. We cannot look over one, very imprtant, detail. WE are the BODY of Christ. WE have to be there for people to turn to.

Read this book. It's relevant. It's, in my opinion, important. Teen suicide is a real problem. The signs are there, but they are subtle. If nothing else, read this book so you can recognize them. Read this book so you know that if you contemplate suicide, you are impacting lives just as much as they impacted yours. It's not about revenge. It's about knowing there is someone out there who cares. There is ALWAYS someone. ALWAYS. Somewhere. It just takes time and trust to find them sometimes.

We need to make ourselves easier to find.

Find Thirteen Reasons Why on Amazon:

PS--the book is really well-written. The author has great characterization skills. Really. Read this with a box of tissues nearby.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I remember reading that book a few months ago. And normally, books that I've read months ago don't stick to my head, but this was so well-written, my brain had no choice but to remember it. Yes, it was definitely a good read!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Well, I couldn't get it out of my head. The characters became so real so fast. And the subject, of course, is something that is really hard to talk about. I'm glad to have someone backin' me up here. This book is really good.

And the author, Jay Asher, wrote me to thank me for my review. How nice is that? His heart really is in the right place--his priority is using the story to stop teens from ending their lives. That is brave! I commend him, and wish him success--because success for him means meeting teens and getting them to take this seriously.

I won't be forgetting this book. Not in a few months. Not in a few years.