When Clay Jenson gets home from school one day to find a package addressed to him, he has no idea that what’s inside will turn his life upside down. Because the package contains 13 cassette tapes from Hannah Barker, a girl who killed herself a few weeks ago. The rules are simple, 13 people are listed on these tapes and the package must be sent to each one in turn, because there is another set which will be made public if the rules aren’t followed. What is Clay’s involvement with Hannah, and who are the twelve other people incriminated in this young girls suicide?
I really wanted to read this book from the minute I heard about it. Suicide is such a difficult subject and to read from the perspective of someone who is at that point intrigued me. There is possibly nothing more tragic than a young person with their whole life approaching them choosing to end it all, and having suffered from pretty severe depression in my own teen years, I thought that this might be something I would really relate to.
The book begins with Clay discovering the tapes and starting to listen. Then follows the strangest narrative I have ever come across in a book. Hannah’s ‘voice’ is written in italics, with Clay responding regularly in between passages. This annoyed me a little and took quite a lot of getting used to. In one way it was interesting to read Clays immediate reaction to what he was hearing, but quite often I felt it just really interrupted the flow of Hannah’s story and wanted to say ‘shut up Clay!’ It made the whole book a little fragmented and although I did get used to it towards the end, overall I wasn’t that keen on this structure.
I also struggled to really believe in some of the plot. I’ve read some reviews that criticise Hannah’s reasons for ending her life, that it wasn’t really all that bad. I disagree. Jay Asher very cleverly describes a ‘snowball effect’ where a lot of small things build into a really huge thing. Each incident Hannah holds such resentment towards isn’t huge on it’s own (excepting a couple later in the book) but added together they become unbearable. Hannah is clearly suffering from some kind of depressive illness, and as anyone who has also experienced depression will know, small things seem huge and knowing how to deal with even the tiniest of things becomes impossible. I really did get Hannah, and how she felt things were ‘snowballing’ out of control. I thought that this was pure genius on the authors part, and I really admire him for that as its something even now I find difficult to explain.
What I did struggle with believing was that all of these people felt threatened enough to pass these tapes on. The ‘crimes’ these people are guilty of committing against Hannah escalate as the tapes progress, and become very dark. However, while the people at the beginning aren’t very nice, they haven’t done anything illegal and I can’t understand why none of them would be so shocked by the latter stories, they wouldn’t hand the tapes over to the police or an adult. I didn’t really think they had that much to loose by exposing themselves that they would be so easily blackmailed into covering for some pretty horrific criminal acts. This really irritated me to be honest.
By the end of Thirteen Reasons Why I did feel a little disappointed. I thought some of the book was fantastic, and really made the reader think about the way they treat people and how it may be interpreted. It made me sad that Hannah had been crying out for help, yet no one had seen the signs, and Hannah herself was a real and thoroughly believable character. On the other hand I found some of the plot a little too far fetched and the split narrative full of interruptions and distractions. I’m glad I read the book, and it will stay with me, I just can’t help feel it could have been more.