Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (3/5). Its heart is in the right place

25 Mar

I still don’t know who told me about this book the first time, but I saw it on enough book bloggers lists that I added it to my list. I had really mixed feelings on the book, but I think my subtitle says it all: It’s heart was in the right place, but the book seemed a bit flat to me. I couldn’t really connect to it.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Clay comes home from high school to find a box addressed to him with no return address label. The box contains seven cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker where she gives the thirteen reasons why she is going to kill herself. Hannah Baker died two weeks before. For the rest of the book, Clay listens to the tapes, waiting to hear his name and what he could have possibly done that would have contributed to Hannah killing herself. There are stories of lies, rumors, betrayal, jealousy, guilt, and rape that all contributed to Hannah’s unhappy time in high school that lead to her death.

Spoilers summary time! Clay waits (quite impatiently) to hear his own name on the tapes. He hears about peeping toms, boys who kissed and told, and friends that were more fake than a purse bought off the sidewalk in NYC. Because of the rumors about her, boys in Hannah’s school think they can take advantage of her and that she’s ‘easy.’ She’s unable to escape the reputation and it spirals downward. Only Clay is able to look past her reputation but Hannah pushes him away. Ultimately, Hannah asks for help but doesn’t find any in the one person she turns to. Clay learns from Hannah’s pain and tries to help someone else he’s afraid needs a friend.

Honestly? I thought Hannah was a very weak character. I’ve read other reviews that said something similar about the book and I agree. I have a very good friend who’s fought with depression and suicidal thoughts as long as I’ve known her and the reasons Hannah gives for wanting to kill herself are chump change in comparison with what my friend’s gone through. Hannah’s depression didn’t seem clinical but rather triggered by a few events; something that could be remedied with time. Instead of getting help with her problems she gave up while knowing there were people who loved her.

Most of the characters in this book fell flat to me. I’ve talked about why Hannah felt contrived, but I think the women in general were very stereotypical and weak. Clay’s mother never asserts her maternal authority when she finds out he’s lying and staying out of the house. Jessica doesn’t believe anything Hannah says and believes her other friends instead. Their female ‘Peer Communications’ teacher can’t even lead a class discussion on suicide effectively. While most of the male characters had terrible negative flaws, there was at least Clay and Tony to redeem them, while the women didn’t have a soul to raise her hand.

Clay was by far my favorite character, though it seems cheap to like the protagonist most. He was a genuinely good guy, no matter what he thought of himself. Hannah saw that in him. His biggest flaw was that he was too passive. He would see something he didn’t agree with and not speak up about it. I liked that Asher used a likable character like Clay to talk about pacifism.

I found it really hard to relate to any of these characters. Hannah portrayed herself as the victim and it was hard for me to feel bad for her because she was so busy feeling bad for herself. The ‘Reasons’ on her tape were all portrayed as bullies, which made them instantly dis-likeable. Clay and Tony were the only characters left that I could sympathize with. Tony had much too small of a part for this, and I still found it hard to connect with Clay for several reasons.

When I was Hannah’s age, I had some similar feelings. I had a break-up with a boy I really thought mattered and that I wanted to be with even after he broke up with me. I lost a lot of friends and felt betrayed by a lot of them. I thought of suicide once or twice. But every time I did, I would think of those people who would miss me, those that cared and would be affected if I were gone. Hannah never had any of these thoughts. I was fortunate and had a few friends where Hannah had none, but I was still able to recognize that it was circumstantial, the way I was feeling, and that when there was another boy or a way out that I could see, things would get better. I almost think that Hannah’s suicide in this book tells kids ‘it’s okay to give up when things are hard. High school is everything and if you can’t figure that out, you’re screwed for the rest of your life.’ That’s not the best message.

I think my favorite part of the book was the last tape, when she goes to talk to her teacher. This is not to say that I really liked that part, but it seemed the most realistic to me. The teacher was scared at the thought of suicide, a reaction a lot of people have. Hannah’s classmates in Peer Communications felt the same way. I really felt bad for Hannah in that scene because she was finally doing what she needed to and she reached out to someone who could help her, but she got nothing in return. Her best (albeit only) attempt failed.

I don’t like that Clay found out Tony had the tapes. I think leaving it that someone had the second set and that they would be released would have been enough and I think pulling Tony mysteriously into the plot was unnecessary. It only served to stretch the page count and add another likeable character. I could have done without him.

I’m glad this book is popular, despite what I’ve said above. It teaches about the effects a suicide can have on other people, the consequences of doing nothing, and one person’s ability to positively affect a person’s life. I wish some of the characters were stronger, but I think Jay Asher’s heart was in the right place when he wrote this. The message is beautiful.

A note on the audio. I read a review that it was hard to tell who was talking at times when reading the text. The audio was a wonderful solution to this. I really recommend it.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked this way of having two narrators, thought I doubt anyone can ever do it again. Hannah’s stream of consciousness and Clay’s melded together well and it was really cool to read their different reactions to the same thing. I think Asher did a good job of giving them distinct voices as well, which might have been missed reading the text as opposed to the audio.

Conflicted between the writing style and the message, I settled for the middle: 3 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts
Interview ~ Jay Asher | Teens Writing for Teens
Interview with Jay Asher, NY Times Bestselling Author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jamie Blair | Old People Writing for Teens
Review: “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher | Dutch Book Chick
Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher | Eat Your Way Smart
Spoilers: Thirteen reasons Why By Jay Asher | Book Journey


5 Responses to “Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (3/5). Its heart is in the right place”

  1. cleopatralovesbooks March 25, 2014 at 5:32 PM #

    What a brilliant review. I have had this on my TBR for some time so I really appreciated your well thought out comments about the characters. Thank you.


    • Sam March 25, 2014 at 5:41 PM #

      I’m glad you liked it! I tend to be critical and this was a good book. I think someone younger, more in the target audience than myself, would have enjoyed it much more than I did.


      • cleopatralovesbooks March 25, 2014 at 5:45 PM #

        To be honest I wondered if I might find the view of this complex issue a little trite because of the target audience and your review confirmed my fears.


  2. deliabattie April 25, 2014 at 7:06 PM #

    Really insightful review, I shared much the same opinion of this book. I really wanted to like it, but it didn’t quite work.


    • Sam April 25, 2014 at 7:24 PM #

      Like I said, it’s heart was in the right place but it didn’t really follow through. I still think it has a good message.


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