“Sir?” she repeats.
– Opening sentence
So, after polling my Twitter followers on what I should read next, the winner was Thirteen Reasons Why.
It’s been sitting in my TBR pile for a while, and I had been refusing to watch the Netflix adaptation until I had read the book, so I was glad to finally find the time to do so.
I started reading Thirteen Reasons Why yesterday afternoon, and I finished the entire book in one full sitting; I was gripped.
I knew that it dealt with issues of teen suicide, but I didn’t quite anticipate how dark the book was going to be.
It all begins when Clay Jensen, a typical high-school American boy, receives a mysterious parcel with no return address. Inside, he discovers a map and a series of cassette tapes containing the last words of Hannah Baker, his classmate who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
The tapes summarise all the events – and people – who contributed to Hannah’s decision to give up on life, and it makes for difficult listening (reading). The incidents start off small, as jokes we probably all would recognise as similar from our own school memories. Towards the end, however, the events begin to spiral out of control and become more serious and damaging, with some classmates – and even two teachers – becoming aware of the warning signs, but failing to act upon them.
The messages from this book are pretty clear: think about how your actions affect those around you; be kind; instead of shrinking back and ignoring things, act out (before it’s too late). These are rules which we all know to be true, but often find ourselves forgetting or failing to act when the time comes.
I have heard that the Netflix adaptation has been criticised for ‘glorifying’ suicide. I can’t comment on that because I haven’t seen it yet, but I definitely didn’t get that impression from the book. The book makes it clear that every act has a consequence, and that what may pass as trivial for some, can have damaging effects on others.
That being said, I do think where Thirteen Reasons Why fails is to connect suicide with mental illness. Hannah’s tapes point blame at specific people and incidents that led her to end her life, but there is no mention of depression or other underlying mental illnesses that she may be suffering with. Of course, this could be because she is unaware of this – but considering that this book could be many young reader’s first experience with suicide, and that historically mental illness is something that has been rarely taught effectively in school’s, I think the absence of this is potentially damaging; readers might be left with the impression that Hannah’s death was just a result of failing to cope with external stressors.
It did cross my mind that the publisher could add some information in the back of the book about suicide and mental illness, with links to websites where readers could find more information and potentially seek help. But then I realised that I have read plenty of books with dark themes including sexual assault, abusive relationships, etc. and I have never before had this kind of expectation. After all, Thirteen Reasons Why is fiction. (What do you think about this?)
Nevertheless, Thirteen Reasons Why is a fiercely powerful and thought-provoking book, and I’d definitely recommend it to all.
(5 / 5)
– Final sentence