Jay Asher – 13 Reasons Why

29Apr09


We’ve all faced the wrath of high school. Either we were too fat, or too thin. Either people expected too much of us, or nothing at all. Either we were ‘cool’, or we were ‘geeks’. Some of us made our peace with it, while some of us still hate that part of our past. Children can be cruel. Adolescents more so. And this book draws on that very attribute of teenagers, to show how harmless ‘fun’ resulted in a young attractive girl deciding that suicide is her only escape. Thirteen reasons. Thirteen. The Baker’s Dozen. And the protagonist is called Hannah Baker.

Imagine this. You wake up one morning, and see a parcel on your front door. I don’t know about you, but I love parcels, specially unexpected ones (i.e. not Amazon parcels!). You open them eagerly, to find a bunch of tapes. Tapes in the twenty-first century? Yes. Exactly. It’s unheard of. But, your curiosity gets the better of you, and you remember the stereo in the garage. You pop in the first tape, and you hear the voice of a girl you used to know, a girl you liked a lot, a girl who chose to kill herself. And you start…

Or well, Clay Jensen did. At the very outset, the message the tapes carried were clear: if someone was listening to the tapes, it meant they were one of the reasons why Hannah Baker decided to end her life. She refused to inform the listener which tape was theirs, but just made the one promise: But fear not, if you received this lovely little box, your name will pop up.

The story follows Clay around the city at night, as he listens to Hannah’s story, and traces her steps in sync with her narration, that spreads seven tapes/thirteen sides. Be it a cafe, an ice cream parlor, or her old house. Even to the house where they once made out… and as the thirteen reasons unfold, one thing is clear: Clay’s life will never be the same again. Getting a message from the beyond can shock you to bits, but being told that you’re one of the reasons why a girl committed suicide – that’s much worse.

The reader can almost sense the emotions and pain that Clay is experiencing, as he listens to these stories, as he reconstructs some of the events, and as he finds himself sickened by some of the acts of gross misconduct his classmates are capable of. From the ‘nicest’ girl in school using Hannah, to the biggest jerks objectifying her. From her first boyfriend spreading rumors about their relationship, to a casual date with a ‘goofy’ guy resulting in him trying to finger her. She seeks help, in her own way, but doesn’t get it…. and Clay constantly reminds us that he would’ve been there for her, but she didn’t reach out to him. And he recalls his memories with her… be it at work, at school, or at that ‘party’. Even more so, he doesn’t quite fathom what he’s doing on these tapes….

It’s a sad story, albeit beautifully written. It doesn’t focus on depression. Instead, it’s a page-turner, keeping the reader in suspense; the perverse part of us wanting to know more about why someone’s decided to take this humungous step… about what finally pushed them over the edge. It reminds us again (not that we need reminding) about the futility of bullying, and how we should notice people’s silent pleas for help. Never know, when people are looking for one reason to cling on to life, every little helps. And how, sometimes, someone, makes up their mind to do something, and are completely calm, composed and at peace with it. And nope – it’s not always a cry for attention.

Lastly, I do want to highlight that this is a work of fiction. In fact, it’s Asher’s debut novel, and he claims he got the idea from the audio guides used by museums. While this isn’t available in most UK high street stores, if you do stumble upon it, give it a read. It’ll make you smile wanly at moments, and it will bring a tear to your eye.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

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