Apr 23 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

There are lots of reasons to commit suicide, but most of the people I know who’ve done it or attempted to have had a lot of Really Bad Shit going on in their heads from Really Bad Shit that comes from their past, or from a present so at odds with their perception of self that self-obliteration seems the only way out of this existential conflict. And the raison d’etre for this book, the character whose Thirteen Reasons Why she committed suicide propel the narrative, just wasn’t one of these people.

I feel that Jay Asher meant well. The subject matter is thought-provoking and there’s a lot of nuance and intelligence. It’s just not a very well-written novel. The dialogue is clunky and overwrought and there’s too much assumption of emotional atmosphere instead of actual reflection, particularly in the present day. I didn’t like the guy narrator, Clay, enough to feel bad for him, and I couldn’t help but feel impatient at the girl, Hannah’s, self-destructive streak. I felt bad at all the horrible things that happened/were done to her, but I also didn’t like her enough to care about her. And I think that’s entirely a function of the writing, that it couldn’t make me care despite what is easily a highly sympathetic situation.

Other reviewers with far more experience than I in this matter have noted that the book glamorizes suicide and that Hannah’s death is more performance art than escape. That’s worrisome. It’s hard for me, personal morality aside, to pronounce on whether someone has a “good” reason to kill him/herself, so I couldn’t tell you if Hannah’s reasons were believable. They definitely weren’t written in a way that made me care about her, tho.

Anyway, I’m glad if this book reaches people and teaches them that suicide is not the answer (tho it bothered me that the version I read didn’t include any information on what to do if you’re having suicidal thoughts,) and if it encourages people to be nicer to and look out for one another. But I did pick up this book thinking that I’d read it before watching the Netflix show… only now I don’t think I’ll watch. There’s something depressingly shallow about this book despite its attempt at meaningfulness, and I doubt the show would be able to fix its shortcomings. I could be wrong, but I suspect that a dramatization would just make me dislike the characters and story more.

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