Thirteen Reasons Why–Jay Asher

This is Barton reading Thirteen Reasons Why (13RW) and as just a note of introduction, I have already completed the television series before starting this book, and so some of my point of views may already be set in stone by how it was acted in the television series. A girl commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes recorded before her death leaving her thoughts on the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. She has these tapes shipped to the people who have wronged her (all of her 13 reasons are people).

Reading the first 1/3 of this book, I have already noticed some huge differences between it and the novel. However, both of them are similar in that there is a lot of controversy following the novel/show and I would like to state my position on it. Some people have said that it glorifies important issues like suicide and to be honest, I really think it does. In fact, whenever Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) is talking through her pre-recorded tapes, it just seems to me almost as a kind of sick game. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show, but in the show I feel as if it was a little more subtle with Hannah’s message. To cause guilt was definitely a part of it, but in the book she seems vicious, almost as if she is exacting revenge on the people that wronged her. By doing so, I think Asher has created almost a starlight for people to view suicide in a different way than what it truly is and can feel for people around them.

Asher also has a weird way of telling the reader when it’s Hannah over the tapes or the main character Clay and his thoughts. Asher italicizes when it is over the tape and uses normal text for Clay. I think it’s a good way to tell them apart, but personally I have found that I had to go back and re-read a section because it didn’t fit a character, probably because sometimes I can’t see the difference between the two writing styles. Sometimes I feel that it breaks apart the story in a negative way and rather than read all of what Hannah is saying, I find myself interrupted by Clay’s thoughts and memories.

There are plenty of good things to say about this novel too. I think the book does a great job explaining the relationship between each of the characters and how they all as a whole contributed to Hannah’s suicide. She spends less time on them compared to the show, but she still does a great job underlining some things that weren’t said in the show that even I thought. For the first 1/3, I read the introduction and four tapes. It was really interesting watching all of the characters and their personalities and roles connect almost like a puzzle for me. There are sometimes where I think that there was no way that the people in these tapes to know that what they did would contribute to what Hannah did, but then sometimes after hearing Hannah’s side of the story, I will become conflicted. Especially with Tape #4 on Tyler Down, the “Peeping Tom.” I didn’t like that Tyler was taking pictures of Hannah, in any way, but I did not expect that to be a reason why she would commit suicide until she explained everything. She said that, “Why didn’t you leave me alone, Tyler? My house. My bedroom. They were supposed to be safe for me. Safe from everything outside. But you were the one who took that away” (89). I loved Hannah’s explanation for this and almost even made me feel guilty for not expecting that to be a reason Hannah did what she did. To feel unsafe is a terrible feeling as security is such a basic human necessity, and taking that away from someone else IS cruel.

Hannah’s narration to me can sometimes seem like a sick game, and sometimes it’s really deep and makes you really think. I also love how complex each character is and I am finding myself excited to read more of Hannah’s commentary on each coming person. The only think I dislike are some choices the author made but are mostly small things. Overall so far, I’ll give it an 11/13 🙂 and look forward to reading more.

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7 responses to “Thirteen Reasons Why–Jay Asher

  1. julialiningerwhite

    I was pretty sickened by her narration of the book and the way she manipulated the people in the tapes. It all seemed to me like an abuse of her taking her life, and using it as a way to guilt those still living or coerce them into doing things. Some of these include throwing rocks through the windows of people at their school, where others are simply persuading people, like Clay, to feel even more saddened than he already is about the fact that his best friend and crush is not longer living. Which brings me on to my next point. Clay seems like a nice character and all, but at times he is almost overly sympathetic. If I had one criticism of the way the main characters are illustrated it would be that too much of his life is spent being the “underdog.” Yes, this is an easy way to make him relatable to a mostly teenage audience, but it seems like the theme of his never ending struggles is relied on too much to engage the audience. He has the classic unreciprocated love situation with Hannah, as well as using witty yet morbid lines to express his thinking.
    Honestly, I think that this book is quite an easy stereotypical young adult novel, which is fine in order to bridge adolescents into the world of literature. However, because it appeals to people my age it refers to a lot of stereotypical high school experiences and tried to make commentary on how harmful they are. Personally this was pretty unoriginal because as someone who’s current life is as a high school student the material was nothing new. Yes there is bullying and unkind exchanges that occur but reading this book hasn’t made me draw any new meaning from it.

  2. Lainey Chi

    Even though I haven’t seen the TV series, I searched up the summary because I was curious to see why the show was so popular. Basically, what Barton said, the book is about a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide but leaves behind thirteen tapes for each person that led her to her death. The narrator, Clay Jensen, listens to each one and more and more unfolds about the true reason why she killed herself.
    The author does a good job of showing the reader how Clay felt when he realized he was a part of Hannah’s suicide. He clearly illustrates the shock, sickness, and distress Clay felt through descriptive adjectives and inner monologues.
    However, I severely dislike how the author portrays Hannah like she is “blaming” the people on the tapes instead of realizing that some of her troubles could have been prevented. I feel this is a bad message to be let out to the young audience, and I think the author should have showed the struggles of being a target of harassment as opposed to a foolish, thoughtless high schooler who makes bad decisions. Suicide, after all, is an extremely touchy and sensitive subject that should not be taken lightly. This book and television series, however, seem to romanticize it and stray away from the true meaning behind the story. This could be very dangerous, and I can understand why schools across the nation are banning students from reading it.
    Also, the tone of Hannah Baker’s narration through the tapes is very confusing. She is telling the story of why and how people made her life miserable, yet in her dialogue (at least for the first third of the book), she seems oddly upbeat and sassy. I think this is another error in the book that could make people misinterpret suicidal people. But, this could also be a wake-up call, because somebody might seem happy on the outside when they are suffering internally.
    So far, I’d give this book a 6/10, there isn’t anything special about it and the portrayal of suicide definitely bothers me. The story itself is interesting, but it isn’t realistic to what a modern teen would experience. I can’t wait to see what will be discovered next on the tapes.

  3. julialiningerwhite

    This novel is so relatable for teens that it is almost fake. I enjoy the story and it is a quick read, but it seems as if the writer interviewed a group of teens on their worst life events and combined them all into one story. That being said, I think that this book also benefits from is ability to be applicable to the lives of adolescents nowadays. It sheds a light on some important topics like sexual assault, bullying, and mental illness. Some of the most powerful moments of the story, such as her tape about poetry and having her writing be stolen from her and shown to the class, come from events that seem like they could be overdramaticized, as if they were written from a teenage perspective. Her poem, written about her suicidal and lonely thoughts is exposed by Ryan, whom the tape is dedicated to. While I think this book portrays suicide in an unhealthy light (as my group members have assessed too) I think that this moment was helpful to show her fragility and ingenuity when dealing with depression. The way that the tapes are sent out, it sort of seems like the author is conveying that if you take your own life you will suddenly be able to affect people in the world in a way you couldn’t before. However, by showing this vulnerability in her poetry the author illustrates that the mental illness she has is true and not just a game she plays to guilt others after her suicide.
    Additionally the most surprising moment of this section is when the audience finally reads Clay’s tape. This was a much awaited moment as Hannah pretty much had no reason to detest Clay, because as far as the audience had seen he was a comforting and affectionate friend. I will follow this post up later with another comment about Clay’s tape! So far I give this book a 6/10.

  4. bartonzhuang

    The first time I posted speaking of the novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, I had a lot of praise, and little criticism. However, as I continue to read on through the novel, the points in which I had criticized have become more evident. Each of Hannah’s thirteen reasons are growing increasingly similar, and she is focusing on calling out her bullies to create a “survivor’s guilt” situation which is (shocker) not working.
    I understand that all of Hannah’s securities are being taken away from her and that it’s seriously taking a toll on her, but I have a serious problem with Asher’s writing style. I feel as if it’s a halfway job and I can understand what Hannah is trying to say, but it really as is just a try.
    I also do not think the characters on the tapes #5-#9 bring much significance to the table. Other than Clay Jensen, I really don’t think Marcus, Zach, Courtney, or Ryan contributed a lot. With the first four tapes, it was clear what was happening. One took away her security, another her clarity, another friendship. These four altogether just dropped her confidence. Hannah really seems to be gunning people down for little to no reason now and it’s becoming increasingly clear in Asher’s writing.
    I agree with Julia. This novel is brave to address suicide, but it’s not doing a good job. Instead of shying away from a powerful issue, it tackles it full on in the wrong way. Suicide is NOT a way to attack people and guilt the people who are still living. I feel sympathetic for the people on the tapes at times… it was said before that what happens to Hannah happens to every girl in high school, and honestly it might be a disgusting truth. Bullying happens everyday, but when Hannah took her own life, it was her free will to do so. It was also her free will to send out tapes attacking each person, which personally, I believe is vacuous.
    At this point, I’d give it a 6.5/10… hoping that Jay Asher can impress with the last part of the book.

  5. Lainey Chi

    I am still very critical of this novel. Jay Asher’s portrayal of Hannah Baker makes it hard for the reader to feel close to her. Her sassy, almost sarcastic, tone makes it seem like the tapes are merely to cause anxiety and guilt to those who receive them. It is hard to be on her side because of her thoughtless decisions, like going to parties and drinking when she knows she is supposed to be at home. This illegal, rule-breaking behavior makes Hannah look untrustworthy and unreliable, so how is the audience supposed to truly understand the message of the book if they do not understand her struggle in the first place? Because how can you realize that suicide is a real, pressing issue in our society when you are too caught up in deciding whether or not the victim was a good person or not? And maybe even if they were deserving of their fate?
    As well as Hannah’s portrayal, I also disagree with how the story is shown. The author focused more on the events leading up to Hannah’s suicide rather than the way she was feeling during that time and how she looked to other people. This is an exciting book because of all the drama and quick pace, but it is not as beneficial to help educate the audience on how to actually notice a suicidal person. If I was the author, I would have had each chapter be narrated by the person who the tape was about, so they could remember how Hannah looked at the time of the event.
    A positive comment is that the author did incorporate some signs of suicide into the book, although subtle. He introduced them in the form of a health class, and Clay could remember the signs. Hannah also cut her hair, and change in appearance is another signal.
    So far, I do like this book because of the drama, it is very similar to a dramatic TV show. However, if you are writing about such a sensitive subject like suicide, the portrayal has to be appropriate. All of these events seem too exaggerated and fake to be a real life situation. However, I am excited to see what the rest of the story will unfold.

  6. bartonzhuang

    I am going to be blunt. I did not like the novel, but something about it just makes me keep on wanting to read more of it, so I have read it further and further and have even finished it, so I thought why not do my last post, so here goes.
    This section definitely had the most going on in it. Firstly, Tape #10 was Clay Jensen, our main character. She begins the tape with a quote from Romeo and Juliet, quoting “Romeo, oh Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo.” She reveals that Clay does not belong on the list. Personally, I think that she was cruel in the beginning to say that everyone on the tapes contributed to her overall suicide, I mean Clay was beating himself up for chapter after chapter pretty much going “what did I do, how did I contribute to Hannah’s suicide” and general freaking out. I feel like by tricking Clay into thinking he was an instrumental part in her suicide, she was stringing him along. She could have easily just spared Clay all the buildup and drama in so many ways.
    This part of the book also talked about the big issues the most. One of the tapes was primarily focused on Bryce Walker, the rapist, and she literally narrates about her choosing which way to die (pills). This part of the novel is clearly the most emotional, as it is where Hannah becomes the most cynical and talks about the worst things that have happened to her in her life. I think she brought up some valid points and some things that even I couldn’t argue with (and I’m a pretty argumentative person). Bryce broke her spirit, and without her spirit, a crucial part of her, she didn’t want to live anymore. She goes to the counselor who basically tells her to get over it and doesn’t try to look at the issue from Hannah’s point of view, and overall not doing a good job at counselling.
    Finally, the ending. Clay completes the full circle, and we’re back at the beginning of the book where he’s mailing the tapes to the next recipient (Jenny Kurtz). Clay goes to school, sees Skye, a girl who he’d liked in Middle School. Skye had been showing signs of distress, and the novel ends with Clay reaching out to her, saying “Skye.” Personally, I thought this ending was very strong. It shows how Clay listened and absorbed everything that Hannah said and chose to reach out to other people that may be hurting. The power of saying Skye’s name and the power of what communication can do was shown. It is heavily implied that by reaching out to Skye this way, Clay saves another suicidal classmate. By just having someone to talk to, to not be alone, Clay helps Skye achieve what Hannah couldn’t.
    Back to my first entry of this book, I compared it to the TV show in which I saw first. I thought that while the TV added a lot of elements that did not necessarily stay true to the book, it did a better job overall of expressing the desired emotion and built more on the characters instead of trashing them off after their chapter. Between the TV show and the book, I would recommend the TV show over the book, as it goes so in depth and makes a very rounded story. As my last rating, I decided that on a whole, I’d give it a 7.5/10, because all though it’s not great, it did do a good job in a few aspects, and the last third contained some very emotional parts, and I believe when a book unlocks emotions in a person that gets them invested, then it’s a good book.

    • julialiningerwhite

      Thirteen Reasons Why has been widly criticized for a number of reasons as I’m sure my partners and I have gone over many times in our blog posts. The end of this book was no more uplifting than the concept of the book was. We, the audience, finds out that the frat-like character, Bryce, has raped two characters. Hannah is one of them and claims that he was used by her as a way to “completely let herself go.” The consent vs. rape debate over this incident is quite confusing as she clearly did not enjoy the events yet she claims that she was allowing it to happen. In my opinion, Bryce should have been more aware of her discomfort and stopped forcing himself on her, since he didn’t it qualifies as rape. Next, we find that Bryce is the unknown person who forced himself on the unconscious Jessica. The fact that she was intimate (to a certain extent before it became nonconsensual) makes Hannah hate herself and contributes to her ultimate decision to take her life. In this way I think the novel has an excellent portrayal of guilt and what it can do to those who experience it. Hannah feels guilty for not stopping the rape of Jessica, which is not necessarily her fault. She was not the rapist, Bryce was. Then she feels guilty for having sex with him even though he was an abusive sexual partner to her. The way that all of these things amount, none of which are her fault, cause her so much pain. I think that the author’s point of this is to show that humans hate themselves over situations they were simply put into that are out of their control. Overall I would give it a 6/10 for people who want a quick read from a teenage perspective and are comfortable with topics like rape, bullying, and suicide.

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