Clay Jenson arrives home from school one day to find a package on his front porch. Inside? A map and seven cassette tapes. From a dead girl.
Hannah Baker killed herself two weeks prior, and everyone was left wondering why. Those who receive the tapes and follow her journey will have those questions answered, and those answers will open their eyes to the hearts and minds of themselves and the people around them.
BFF Charm: Yay!
There are two narrators to this story, Hannah and Clay. Hannah’s dead, so it’s a bit difficult to be BFF with her, but from all accounts, she was pretty awesome while she was alive. Both Hannah and Clay are flawed individuals, but their flaws are understandable and realistic. Yes, they can be selfish, shallow and short-sighted, but I’ve never met a teenager who wasn’t these things.
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Did I swoon over Hannah and Clay as a couple? Nah, not really. Death, and particularly suicide, is not romantic, no matter what Shakespeare may think. Mostly it just sucks, large.
That said, I think we’ve all been where Clay’s at – left looking back on your time with someone and wondering what more you could have done.
Talky Talk: Fetch
The book suffers, I think, from its main narrative device – that of a dead girl and a living boy narrating the same story. There’s just a little too much of “Hannah said this, and now I feel like this” in this novel, which is unfortunate because a more compelling narration could have hidden some of the book’s other flaws.
Bonus Factor: Walkman
Well, I was hardly going to put suicide as the bonus factor, right? Actually, this would have been EVEN BETTER if Hannah had recorded her suicide note on those little mini-tapes from the 80s. Remember those? They only had room for one song on each side and were about the size of a matchbook. Mine had “Manic Monday” and “Locomotion” by Kylie Minogue. Good times.
Relationship Status: That Ex You Still Sort Of Have Feelings For
After reading this book, I gave it to my friend Meredith with the instructions, “Give this to Sarah. I don’t know what to think of it.” Losing a loved one to suicide is something I wish I could say I have never experienced, but my very good friend took her life a few years ago. My feelings about that, and her, are at best unresolved, and I found as I was reading this book that my thoughts naturally strayed to my friend. Eventually, it became too difficult to judge the book on its own merits – were the flaws I found it to have actually relevant, or was I just judging it, and the characters, based on my own experience? I’m still not sure, except to say that even with my personal feelings removed, I still didn’t completely buy the story and I’m not sure I liked the book.
That said, one thing I did like about the book was the message (dumbed down though it may have been). Hannah Baker did not suffer from clinical depression, or some other disease which we may often attribute to suicide, but rather from a million pointed barbs or looks, a million turned-away faces or dashed dreams, until, in the end, there was nothing left to hope for. I often make a (tactless) joke about my inability to be rude to strangers, even when they deserve it, by saying that all people are two mean comments away from offing themselves on any given day and I don’t want to be the one who makes the second comment. The thing is, it’s true. You never know when compassion and understanding and the patience to really listen will save someone’s life, and you certainly don’t want to learn the hard way.
But, apart from all that, who the heck names their book with numbers replacing letters? I really hate that. Se7en got away with it, because that movie is awesome. You, Th1rteen R3asons Why, are no Se7en.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Thirteen Reasons Why is available now.