Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Workout Song of the Day: "I'm Goin' In" by Drake ftg. Lil Wayne

Teen suicide is, unfortunately, something that every high school student will have to deal with, both directly and indirectly. But imagine having a student at your school that left you audio confessions as to why she killed and herself--and that you were part of that reason! This is what Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why covers, and ultimately does a fine job in analyzing the pain that teenagers have to deal with on a daily basis.

There are two main characters in this novel--Hannah Baker, the beautiful, but misjudged, girl who kills herself, and Clay Jensen, the smart kid with a crush on Hannah, but who also is one of the recipients of her confessions. Everyone who has received Hannah's tapes had something to do with her death, and Clay becomes tormented with both hearing about Hannah's turmoil, but also having to relive her death all over again.

There were many things that I liked about this novel. First of all, the concept amazes me to no end. Teen suicide is a topic that is frequently covered in novels, but I definitely think that Asher puts a new spin on it. He actually got the inspiration for this novel from an audiotaped museum tour--I need to keep my eyes open for more good ideas! Second of all, I also feel that Asher gives a terrific voice to Hannah. I was speaking to one of my MFA professors about author's writing in the voice of the opposite sex, and he admitted that most male authors do a terrible job in creating female protagonists; however, Asher clearly demonstrates the angst that young females go through when they are considered something they are not by their peers. Finally, I think this novel enables an honest discussion about teen suicide. Asher speaks about the warning signs, risks, and preventative measures all without being too "preachy". I've even recommended this novel to a few of my students.
I only had two main concerns about this novel. First, while Asher did do a great job in giving Hannah a voice, I did felt that her confessions were a bit too neat. This is a teenaged girl pouring her heart out and telling others why she's about to kill herself, but the sentences were too concise and beautiful. I felt as if she were reading her reasons to us as opposed to actually just speaking to us. My other concern was that I felt that I didn't get to know Clay as much as I wanted to. I know that he was a vehicle for Hannah's story, but I also wanted to care more about my "tour guide." And some of his reactions to portions of Hannah's confessions actually confused me; I thought that some of them were a bit over the top, but I ultimately understood how much he cared about this girl--I know that many of you may disagree about this criticism, though. :)
Ultimately, I found Thirteen Reasons Why to be a heartfelt, and addictive, read.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Cookies


Marquita Hockaday said...

This is an extremely serious topic, and I am glad that you found a book that is good enough to recommend to students. And it is good to know that there are some authors out there that can write in the voice of the opposite sex, as this is my goal :) I also get what you are saying about the language of Hannah- if she is a teenager and dealing with so much angst then she should find it difficult to have clear, beautiful sentences. Great review...and I love the four cookies stacked in the picture by the way :)

Racquel Henry said...

Good Review. And interesting topic. I am enjoying learning about this whole YA (or rather edgy YA) world. LOL. And like Marquita, one of my goals is also to be able to write in the voice of the opposite sex. At the moment I don't think I could do it, but I am going to try my hand at it soon. Nice job again! :)

Mike Chen said...

Would you consider this YA or adult fiction with a teen protagonist (a la Ordinary People)?