Th1rteen R3asons Why, Jay Asher
So I hate the dopey title, and I really wanted to hate the book. It’s such a contrived (if original) premise – girl leaves suicide mix-tapes for all the people who made her suicidal. And I’m not sure it’s especially well-executed; in particular, the parts of the novel that are narrated by Hannah (the tapes) in no way sound like dialogue, and that bothered me – after all, the author could’ve just had her write letters. My other initial hesitation was Hannah herself. I’ve had a couple of friends who have committed suicide, so to me that person looks different than Hannah, who is blonde and popular and, well, female. Add to that the fact that a few of her 13 choices seem downright petty, and I got mad at her for making people feel guilty for the rest of their lives because of an almost certainly unintended slight – 100 pages in, I was skeptical.
But it’s a weirdly moving novel, when it comes to it. It took me until the end of the book to appreciate it, but I did, and I was glad I read it. The protagonist’s part in Hannah’s suicide is heartbreaking, and the interactions he has with other recipients of the tapes are compelling and ring true – much more so than the contents of the tapes themselves. I like to see teenagers reading this book (and they do, in droves), for a host of reasons. I appreciate that Asher lays out (in a non-didactic fashion) many of the warning signs of severe depression, which is good information for kids to have. Even better, what this book teaches is the importance – in this case, a life-or-death level of importance – of treating other people kindly and with respect, all the time. A lot of the people Hannah blames for her suicide weren’t unusually mean, for high school kids. They were just callous and uncaring, and that was enough to hurt her. The more reinforcement that message gets, the better.
In short: For the win, in spite of the goofy title. A strong message and characters that teens will recognize from the hallways of their very own high schools make this a compelling read.
Read it if you like: Other “issue” YA novels, like (I’m going to date myself here) Cut and Smack