I wanted to check this one out because so many people were talking about it, but 13 Reasons Why was the opposite of a page-turner for me. I found myself checking my Kindle percentage to see if I was getting close to the end and finally discovering what other people found so compelling. Spoiler: I didn’t find it.
The premise is that after Hannah’s suicide, her classmates find and listen to cassette tapes explaining the reasons why she committed suicide. The boy who always loved her from afar is listening to the tapes and retracing Hannah’s steps, miserably trying to recall their last moments together and thinking of how pretty she was. Somehow this managed to make the suicide feel both manipulative (They’ll be sorry when I’m dead! See how sorry?) and heavily dramatized, that I kinda thought Hannah faked it to see what people did. I know this book and the popular Netflix show has sparked a lot of discussion about suicide and whether the drama made suicide seem more appealing, but to me, it felt as overblown as a Victorian heroine wasting away (of a never-mentioned tuberculous, probs), and I kind of expected Clay to return every year to put Hannah’s favorite flowers on her grave, dabbing a single tear with a monogrammed handkerchief.
Hannah’s thirteen reasons were all people who’d let her down, in large and small ways. The heavy-handed point was that she was driven to suicide without a deep tragedy, just a series of setbacks and minor cruelties, but the actual sadness of these casual cruelties is lost in how forcefully and repeatedly the author is making this point. I think for emotional resonance, less is more for me.
The thirteen stories veered into Dark Secret Suburbia territory (which is actually a genre I love – have you read The Cheerleaders?) without fully committing. There’s a perky cheerleader who causes a fatal wreck, a high school rapist, fake friends, but there’s also a meanie who steals the nice notes written to Hannah. Apparently in this town, everyone just walks around bumping into each other for the same kind of random/deep encounters that turned me off The Infinite Pieces of Us.
I thought the tape about Mr Porter was awful. The guy is spending a free period to counsel an upset student, he gently draws out what happened, and tells her he’ll support her if she wants to press rape charges or if she wants to confront the boy in his classroom (which is a generous offer, since he’s risking the boy’s angry parents coming for his job), or she can move on with her life. She decides that wasn’t enough support and that he failed to stop her suicide plans. This was probably the part that moved me the most, because I felt like this was another no-win situation for teachers, what could he possibly have said, how many other students and problems was he also dealing with, was he even getting paid for this counseling time?
In general, I just wanted Hannah to get a hobby. Not even a teen movie hobby, where the heroine turns out to be a great artist or an amazing singer or something with accepted value, I just wanted her to get really into a TV show or take up knitting or start playing an MMO or whatever. Just something to enjoy. This character just cried out for something to make her happy, literally, and I just want her to get out of her own way.
I’d skip this one, and recommend One of Us Is Lying for revelations among high-school cliques after a mysterious death, or The Truth About Alice for an emotional look at rumors, truth and teenage cruelty.
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