Tea & Book Chat: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Personal Thoughts:  To be completely honest, I had no intention of reading Thirteen Reasons Why.  I had the book on my Amazon wish list for years without ever purchasing it and I just felt like I got to the point where I lost interest and wouldn’t ever get to it.  Then Penguin Teen was kind enough to mail me the cutest promotional package in celebration of the Netflix adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why (which actually airs today March 31st!).  It came with a plastic popcorn container (I’ve always wanted one of these for some irrational reason), a box of Mike & Ike’s (my deceased uncle’s favorite candy), a pack of tissues (because have you read the premise?!) and a copy of the TV-tie in edition of the book.  After one of those brief crises where I’m incapable of choosing what to read next, I remembered that the show would be releasing in just four days and so the book called to me.

Plot Summary:  Thirteen Reasons Why follows Clay Jensen, an average teenage boy who returns home from school one day to find a mysterious unmarked package waiting for him.  The package is full of seven cassette tapes and when he begins playing the first one he instantly recognizes the voice as that of Hannah Baker, a classmate of his who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons that contributed to why she made her decision and whoever receives the tapes is one of the reasons.  Clay spends the entire night following a map that Hannah left and listening to each tape, anxious to discover how he was a contributor to such a tragic end for a girl he really liked.

Critique:  It’s hard to say that I enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why because of the sensitive subject matter, but I can say that I am very happy I chose to read it.  It was heartbreaking to hear Hannah’s narrative explaining the reasons that snowballed into her reaching her eventual end.  I liked that Clay’s internal commentary is given to us in real time instead of having to wait for pauses to understand what he’s thinking or how his viewpoint differed from Hannah’s.  It really makes the reader think about such seemingly little moments in our own lives and how they can affect others in ways that we would never foresee ourselves.  There were definite wrongs committed by the people Hannah places blame upon and I like to imagine that many of them would’ve acted differently had they known what would happen, (even though it’s doubtful because so many of these high school boys she interacted with are garbage humans).  The book talks about very important issues like rape culture, underage drinking and of course, suicide (including signs and prevention tactics).  There are so many pivotal moments in Hannah’s narrative that could’ve changed and prolonged her life if only anyone had been persistent about offering help.  I’m so curious to see how faithful the adaption is, even though it’s going to be difficult to relive Hannah’s story two times in one week.

Do I Recommend?:  I do.  Thirteen Reasons Why covers incredibly important subject matter and I think all teenagers should be required to read this as part of their school curriculum.  If it could impact even half of the kids in a way that makes them more sensitive to their peers, I would argue that it’s worth it. I’ve since finished watching the Netflix adaptation and I actually think I liked it better than the book.  The changes they made worked really well to modernize the story and I appreciated that we’re given insight into the other characters that have effected Hannah.

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Kristin