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Monday, August 10, 2015

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Thirteen Reasons Why

Hello readers! Nicole here. I have a super fun treat for you while I kick off my Myrtle Beach vacation this week. Charlotte, #bestguestbookbloggerever, is doing Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why today. The reason I am so excited about it is that I posted on this book three years ago, and I very much want another take on it. So the biggest thanks in the world to Charlotte!!! (I'm also glad we have similar feelings on the book.)

I am signing off so you can hear from the woman herself. 

Hi there,

Reading "TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY" was, mostly frustrating. The book, written by Jay Asher, was a New York Times bestseller when it came out 8 years ago. The numbers in the stylized title are just one of many examples of the way this book screams "I wrote this for teenagers!" 

Nonetheless, I can see why it was so popular. It is pretty compelling to read, and once you start you are drawn to keep reading and figure out the details of what happened. The overall premise of the book is that a high school boy has received a set of cassette tapes in the mail, and he must listen to them all to learn the thirteen reasons (sort of) why his classmate has killed herself. Knowing from the beginning that there are thirteen reasons, and being given lots of clues along the way that tie the reasons together, make the reader want to keep going. I think that is the best thing I can say for this book.

I had two big frustrations with the book. First, I felt like the author was really enjoying his own abilities and jokes, which is not something I enjoy. It feels pedantic, like he's trying to hard to create something meaningful and connect with teenage readers. Some of the motifs in the book were really heavy handed. In particular, there were lots of references to childhood songs or nursery rhymes and lots of mentions of sweetness, both literally in terms of candy and sugary drinks and figuratively in mentioning people's personalities. I know that these were intended to be symbols of childhood, and of things that can seem harmless and fun but really aren't: sing-song teasing and overly sweet things that actually make you sick. But I just felt that by the tenth or twentieth reference, the author was trying to hard to make the book into something we could write an essay about in class. His references to literature that lots of high school students read, from his direct mention of Holden Caulfield to his indirect-but-obvious shout-out to William Carlos Williams, just reinforced my feelings that he was trying to hard to connect with me.

My second, and much bigger, frustration with the novel was that I found it very hard to sympathize with Hannah, the girl who has made the tapes in the story. Her reasons for killing herself, which I won't give away here, seemed for the most part to be everyday occurrences in high school life. Most of the people she was seeking to blame for her suicide had wronged her in what seemed to me to be very insignificant ways. What's more, she had set up an elaborate blackmail system to ensure that they all felt blamed for their part in her actions, which she seemed from her way of speaking on the tapes to enjoy very much. Most of the book builds up to learning how the protagonist who is listening to the tapes is involved in her suicide - and the result there seemed like a cop-out from creating any complexity to the main character. I was frustrated with her, page after page, for her choices in how to handle the things that happened to her and how to embarrass and blame everyone else around her. It was as if she could not see that she was continuing a cycle of difficulty and pain around her.

That said, when I finished the book, I wondered if those feelings were the goal of the author. Because if the book had shown Hannah as horribly wronged and I had related to her response to the world around her, I might have left it feeling that in her case the suicide made sense. Instead, I ended the book feeling like these trivial things that happened to her, which many people around her may not have realized had a lasting impact, caused her to do something that anyone outside the situation would have viewed as a bad decision. 

That feeling in itself got me thinking about the reasons that many teenagers and young adults kill themselves, and how the small ways we may wrong another can have a real lasting impact on people who are having a hard time. How simple kindnesses can make a difference. The fact that the author ended the book by showing such a simple kindness in action is evidence to me that maybe, just maybe, his intention was for me to feel frustrated with Hannah, so that I would see that the choice she made was a bad one, and would remember that even the smallest acts of ignorance or cruelty can have a lasting impact I wouldn't have expected. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that was his intention, which in the end makes me kind of appreciate this book and understand what made it so popular. Even so, I think he could edit some of the self-amused puns out of his next book and give us a little more credit as readers.


~ Charlotte

For purchase below. 

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