Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: October 18, 2007
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover is interesting in its contradictions.  The background image had a romantic feel to it with the soft colors and lace.  The foreground, however, features black tape and a stark font and red elements that stand out.  I really enjoyed how the quote from Sherman Alexie feels almost like a piece of grafitti on the wall. 

The Gist:
Clay Jensen, all around nice guy, is surprised by a mysterious package containing thirteen cassette tapes.  When he begins listening to them, he is shocked to discover that they contain a message from Hannah Baker, his crush who recently committed suicide.  Hannah has recorded thirteen tapes, for thirteen people and they must each listen and then pass the tapes on or a second copy will be made public.  In listening to the thirteen reasons that Hannah took her own life, Clay learns more than he ever dreamed about Hannah and about the other 12 people on the list. 

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why was chosen by my students as a book club book.  I set the schedule back in January unaware that it would become so topical.  Just this past week, a local teen made worldwide headlines when she committed suicide.  Rehtaeh Parson was allegedly raped by four of her peers while at a party.  She spent the next two years being tortured by her classmates while her alleged rapists walked off scott-free.  Rehteah attempted suicide and was placed on life-support, eventually being taken off by her heart-broken parents.  Her death has shocked the world and led to a call to action for police, lawmakers, teachers, and parents.  

Thirteen Reasons Why tells a very important story: that of a girl who feels alone and without hope and that of the people left behind wondering what they could have done.  It is important to note that there were no big tragedies in Hannah's life.  Her suicide was the result of rumors, innuendo and "the snowball effect" that made her feel unloved and unwanted.  Those of us on the outside often find it difficult to recognize this and are unable to see the impact that a thousand small actions can have on a person's life.  Through this story, we are prompted (without preaching) to be better people, to consider the impact of our words and actions and to truly see the lives of those suffering around us.

Thirteen Reason's Why features a dual narrative that seemlessly blends Hannah's story with that of Clay as he spends one painful night making his way through the tapes and through Hannah's life.  This writing styles was risky, but it plays very well and each character is able to add events and elements to create a seamless story that compels the reader forward.  The reader walks with Clay, and with Hannah, willing each person mentioned in the tapes to act differently and change the outcome, pleading with them to take notice.  As a teacher this was both painful and thought-provoking. 

Books like this are the reason that I am coming to love YA Contemporary Fiction.  They jump start conversations and critical thinking.  It is my sincere hope that, in reading this book as a group, my book club will be able to open the lines of communication and help each one of them to understand the importance of treating each and every person they meet with kindness and compassion.  And if one of those students truly understands how Hannah feels, I hope this book, and our discussion, will help them find one person who can positively impact their life.  It is time for an open dialogue in schools and this is a fine place to start. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Voyeurism, Masturbation, Petting
Violence: Rape, Suicide
Inappropriate Language: Slut, Ass, Dick, Bitch, Pissed, Shit
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

2 comments:

Jahzeiah Gadiano said...

I've always wanted to read this book but never find the space and time to fit it in. But, lovely review :)

Jahzeiah @ Mermaed Books

Goldie @ My Book Musings said...

Both the story and the review is beautiful. Thirteen Reasons Why is one of my favorite books, which I actually just bought because it was on sale. I didn't know that it was about suicide, and I was a bit apprehensive to read it. When I finished reading, I was just blown away. The book is pretty powerful, although not everyone can relate or understand Hannah, and might even call her "reasons" immature. But if you look at it from a young person's perspective, and who is not emotionally as strong as you, they could be justified reasons for some.

I reviewed the book as well here if you're interested.

This is a pretty good choice by your class! :)

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