Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is a book that is being adapted into a series by Netflix.
The story is about a teenager, Hannah Baker, who had committed suicide a week before the events of the book. In a series of cassettes she records reasons as to why she had committed suicide. She leaves behind the cassettes to the people she deems responsible for driving her to kill herself – thirteen people.
The story is narrated by one of these people, Clay Jensen, one of the thirteen people on the tapes. The story opens with him receiving the tapes and follows his narrative as he listens and reacts to Hannah’s story.
The book is well written, and events tie up quite perfectly towards the end.
Though the book seems slightly immature at certain points (this actually depends on the age of the readers themselves), there is a lot to take away from the book.
“The Snowball Effect”
“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet, we push it just the same.” – Hannah Baker (Jay Asher)
This is one of the most insightful messages in the book. People mean no harm, but more often than not they do not acknowledge the fact that everyone’s unique experiences are what shape their perceptions and reaction. It is for this reason that people often react differently about the same thing. Unfortunately, people frequently forget the same, limiting others’ experiences to their own.
As Hannah narrates the incidents that were responsible for pushing her over the edge, the incidents she mentions seem very insignificant if isolated as single events. But the book builds the narrative carefully, ensuring that the reader understands that those events were part of something bigger that started out small but snowballed into a burden for Hannah.
“If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.”
The book deals with the topic of identity in different ways.
Hannah’s identity is a major theme in the book. The incident that starts the snowball effect creates a reputation that is in complete juxtaposition of who she really is, and everything that follows is a direct or indirect result of the same. It can be inferred from Hannah’s tapes that she desperately wanted people to know her for who she really was and not what they thought her to be.
“I wanted people to trust me, despite anything they’d heard and more than that, I wanted them to know me. Not the stuff they thought they knew about me.” – Hannah Baker
Once again, it comes down to what people think versus the truth, two completely different things most of the time.
Another aspect of the theme of identity, is a girl called Courtney. She is depicted as being very nice despite being high up on what they call the “social hierarchy” in their high school. Hannah, after having spent some time with her deduces that Courtney only did so because she wanted people to believe that of her; she wanted to be the popular, nice kid.
The interesting thing about this is that it is written in such a way that it evokes some sympathy for Courtney herself, not necessarily a bad and manipulative person, but largely someone who struggles with a moral dilemma while also not wanting to be different enough to completely be isolated from her peers.
The book has depicted the psychological mind frame of a sexually harassed girl very well. It also shows how what is playful for a guy may not really be as playful to a girl; in fact, she may hate it (vice-versa).
The book addresses a range of circumstances and situations- party with drunk teenagers where a boy takes advantage of a girl being drunk, an psychologically abusive relationship, etc.
The suicide element in this book is examined as something that is not impulsive, and that is a very rare type of writing. Suicide has been addressed as something that can be foreshadowed, and it has also been dismissed as an “attention-seeking” gimmick or even a cowardly act, both perfectly ridiculous ideas. The book also depicts that what one person may call “help”, may not be so for the person seeking it.
The book also addressess the after-effects of suicide and the impact it has on other people. (Although in this case, the reach of the impact is carefully and purposefully planned). The ending of the book, though not exactly a mind-blowing twist, does leave the reader with a sense of grim sadness, peppered with a warmth of sorts.