Tag Archives: Young Adult

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 Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

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

Who Influences You?

13 Feb

My husband suggested I talk about influences and I think that’s a great conversation to start. I hope you’ll join me in it. I’d never thought much about my influences until I started writing seriously, about a year ago. Before then, writing was  something I did when I had nothing else to do and an itch in my brain to put words on a page. Now that it’s one of my biggest hobbies, I think about it a lot.

I think we have influences in different aspects of our writing. For example, S.E. Hinton is an influence of mine because her books made me think that I could write. She was so young when she wrote The Outsiders, and it made me thing that I could write when I’m young and that I could write something worth reading. I also love how she is able to portray male characters that men can relate to. It shows that you can write another gender and do it well.

Sonia said to me that she sees Hinton’s characters in my book and I was incredibly honored. I assure you the resemblance between Ponyboy and Johnny isn’t too strong (my character is a 1920s gangster instead of a Tulsa greaser), but that she was able to see the same strong male persona in my character was really heartwarming.

While Hinton inspired me to start writing and encouraged me to know I can write about men and boys, I don’t strive to emulate her style. Let me explain other ways I’ve been influenced

J.K. Rowling is another big influence of mine. I’m not just saying this because I’m a Potterhead, mind you (though I am). Rowling’s popularity showed me that the whole world can care about Young Adult literature and that it’s sphere of influence can extend well beyond the 12-19 age group. I know I’m unlikely to write something as universally appealing as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but knowing how seriously YA lit is taken today makes me feel more confident in saying I want to be a YA author.

Philippa Gregory inspired me to write Historical Fiction. I love her books about Tudor England and am awed by the way she is able to transport the reader to the time period so effortlessly, without explaining the way things are and letting them be. I always feel like I’m learning while I read her books and it made me want to read more and more and more historical pieces to learn and enjoy at the same time. So when I started writing historical pieces, I wanted to make my setting and characters seem as effortless. I want my readers to learn about the 1920s and fall in love with them as much as I have while researching my book.

I thank these women for making me want to write. It’s a coincidence that they are all woman, something I didn’t even notice until editing this piece. When I see their books on my shelf, I’m filled with confidence.

Who inspires and influences you? In what ways have you been influenced by other writers? Please leave me a comment and let me know.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (3/5)

7 Feb

Here’s the second book I almost threw across the room when I finished it in a month. I’m not sure why I’m being such a conclusion snob, but it’s getting bad. Brace yourselves.

This book fulfilled “Nebraska” in my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath loves Simon Snow. Well, ‘loves’ is maybe putting it delicately. Cath is completely obsessed with Simon Snow. His fictionalized world of magic, vampires, and a powerful Mage has been one of her true obsessions for years. (Harry Potter, anyone?) Now, she’s off to college to study creative writing and she’s lost the one person she could always count on, her sister, Wren. Wren wants to branch out and discover a world besides that of Simon Snow; a world of fraternity parties, afternoon classes, and boys. Cath is content to stick with Simon. She’s made a name for herself as one of the most popular Snow fanfiction writers in the fandom and she’s not about to abandon her followers for something as trivial as a college workload or friends.

When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. I myself was a fairly successful fanfiction writer in middle school, though I slowed down significantly in high school. After graduating from college, I actually finished the story I was working on and posted a few more things, but I haven’t touched it since October 2012. I checked my stats last week and just went over a total 100,000 views on my more popular story. So yeah, I could related to a lot of what Cath felt. I’ve never seen a book that addressed this subculture before and as someone who was very involved in it, I was anxious to read. I could related to the stigma Cath faced for her work. They’re not your characters and it’s not your world, so are you stealing from the author? This is a completely different argument than what I’m saying about this book, so I’ll let that one rest.

I loved how unique all of Rowell’s characters were. Levi, Cath’s love interest, was especially well-developed. None of the physical descriptions made me think “This guy is a looker, Cath should go for him,” but everything he said and did made me fall in love with him. I could sympathize and feel for every character, even the ones I didn’t like, such as Cath’s mother. I think I’ll be stuck thinking about the characters more than anything. And really, that’s what rings true about books that inspire fanfiction. (Side note, Fangirl already has 30 stories posted on fanfiction.net.)

Rowell says a lot through her characters. Cath is reminded that while it’s all well and good to like or even be obsessed with something, we can’t forget to live. Cath is so involved in her story that she doesn’t see Levi’s flirtation or her dad’s downward spiral until they’re shoved in her face. Cath also has to learn to use her own voice. Her Fiction Writing class forces her to write without the crutch of Simon and his fellow characters. It’s her greatest struggle in the book and her professor’s comments about fanfiction degrade her to the point of giving up. In the end, she has to find her own story and her own voice to keep pursuing her dream.

I think forgiveness could be the main theme of this book. Cath has to forgive Levi for kissing another girl, her father for not taking care of himself, her sister for neglecting their relationship, and her mother for abandoning her and her sister when they need her most. I’m not sure she does completely forgive her mother, but the other three were stretches for Cath’s character and helped her develop.

My husband teaches middle school and he said that a bunch of his students were reading this title. That disturbs me a bit. There are some themes in this book that are appropriate for the age range of the characters, 17-22, but I wouldn’t want a middle schooler reading it. The book is labeled ‘Young Adult’ because of Cath’s age. This is one of those books that I feel needs to be in the ‘New Adult’ category based on some sexual themes and content more suited to those 16+ (probably 18+ to be safe). My personal opinion would be to have designations within YA fiction for that appropriate for middle school and that best reserved for late high school or college.

Writers’ Takeaway: Again, the ending of this book really bothered me. There were so many plot lines that it was going to be hard for Rowell to wrap them up and I think she let a few dangle. Did Cath finish her fic before the last Simon Snow book came out? Did she ever talk to her mother again? I was very disappointing not to find out. My rating is entirely based on this. I think it’s a writer’s job to bring an end to all plot lines. I’ve heard Rowell’s other books have similarly disappointing endings and I’m tempted to take Eleanor & Park off of my reading list because of this.

Rowell found her audience in those who write fanfiction and I’m sure most of her readers are part of this subculture as well. This is the first book (or first I’m aware of) to address these people and I have to give her two thumbs up for an original idea. I’m glad being a fanfiction writer is not something to criticize in this book. I feel I can come out and say I wrote fanfiction that I’m proud of.

This might not bother other readers, but all of the pop-culture and technology references really bothered me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction so this is one of the few times I’ve had to think about characters having cell phones and laptops. I think the pop-culture references to Twilight and Kanye West really date the book so that readers even ten years from now will not understand it as well. Then again, I write Historical Fiction so this is something I don’t run into often.

Overall, I’m not sure I would recommend it based on the ending but if you’re deep into a fandom, it’s very relatable. Three out of Five Stars

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell|Review |The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell| Book Journey
Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell| We’re All Mad Here
Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell| Pop Culture With Camilla