Thoughts on… Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This review was sponsored by NetGalley. The eBook was given me for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

If you’re hoping this is a review about a Netflix series, I’m going to disappoint you. It’s my thoughts on the book the series is based on. I have not watched any of it, but I’ll confess that the somewhat morbid premise piqued my interest. When I saw the opportunity to read Thirteen Reasons Why, I didn’t hesitate.

Hannah took her life, but she recorded tapes of her reasons for doing it. From the very first tape, Hannah explains that the listener is one of the reasons why. She instructs him/her to listen to them all, then pass them on to the next person on the list. The consequences for not playing along? A copy of the tapes will be “released in a very public manner” if they don’t make it through all the people on the tapes. How can she carry out this threat posthumously? What will she reveal to compel the listeners to abide by her demands? These questions kept me hooked for the majority of the book.

The story begins on the day Clay receives the tapes. Asher throws us headlong into the action, by page 7 we are reading the contents of Cassette 1: Side A. The novel only spans a day and a night, but the contents of the tapes will forever change Clay’s life and how he views the people he thought he knew. I really enjoyed the pace of this book, there were very few – if any – words wasted describing the setting or the characters. Asher writes in the clear, concise and yet depictive style that I aspire to.

The story is written in two first person points of view: Hannah and Clay.

Rather than being separated by chapters, the book is divided into cassettes and which side of the cassette Clay is listening to. His and Hannah’s narratives run together, simultaneously, and it gives the sense of being right there in the moment. We read Hannah’s narrative on the tape, then Clay’s thoughts in response to her narrative or to what was happening around him, it is like being him, in his head, living it, experiencing the whole tragic, confusing and overwhelming unfolding of events.

With the accusation of being one of the motives for Hannah’s suicide over his head, Clay feels nauseated, terrified, and yet he is compelled to keep listening. Likewise, even though I knew how the story ended for Hannah, I was compelled to keep reading.

Clay comes across as sympathetic and likeable protagonist, it is clear he cared for Hannah, so I wanted to know how he fitted into Hannah’s justification. But four people/reasons into the tapes and I began to wonder how exactly the events described could have escalated to suicide.

My reaction to the novel made me reanalyse my attitudes toward suicide and depression. I found myself thinking: These people were unkind, immature, and selfish at times, sure, but isn’t that typical of adolescence? It’s a drastic reaction to what are pretty common teenage problems. So far I only deemed the fourth person’s actions as the sort that would probably change you as a person, maybe make you more paranoid even into adult life.

As the plot progressed, I began to think about the way Hannah described it as a “snowball effect” and it made me realise that perhaps that was the whole point Jay Asher was trying to make with this novel. It’s not necessarily one singular tragedy or life-altering circumstance that results in depression and suicide, it’s the summation of problems, bigger and smaller, that suffocates a person’s ability to cope with daily life.

*SPOILER ALERT* The scene with Hannah and Clay made me cry. I don’t cry often, I really mean that. When tears come it’s always for a reason, of course, but because they happen so rarely, they always take me by surprise. Hannah and Clay’s side of the tape was charged with hope and helplessness. Knowing the way the story ended, I couldn’t help but be moved by the gloom that enveloped the image of the two unknowing, hopeful protagonists enjoying the happiness they’d craved. *SPOILER ENDS*

As with real life, Hannah’s “reasons” are linked and interwoven, some were scarring events, some led to her feeling guilty, sickened with herself, worthless, which ultimately became the crushing weight that led her to lose all hope and to finally end her existence.

Asher has masterfully captured a snapshot into the mind of a depressed and suicidal person whilst also portraying the mind of a healthy person who cares about and loses such a one. People who suffer with depression and suicidal thoughts are not any less than any of us, they are simply people who have lost hope and strength to keep going, they need help to rediscover the person they were when they used to feel like life was worth living. Are they seeking attention? Yes! Even if they push against it, they need to be reassured that they are loved, important and not alone.

So if you’re considering suicide, get help, and try not to give up before you find it. And if you are connected to somebody contemplating suicide or who is depressed, don’t focus on the reasons they give for taking their life, help them to feel loved and valued.

What I got from this book is that you can’t totally blame other people for another person’s suicide, you can’t totally blame a person who has committed suicide for their decision. It’s not about whose fault it is, it’s about remembering that our words and actions affect others and sometimes in ways we can never know, it’s about remembering to treat each other with compassion and kindness and make ourselves better people.

Remember: suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem/situation

There are some sexual themes, not recurring but two scenes stand out as being the sort which parents may not be comfortable letting their children read. That said, it is well written and hard to put down, I probably wouldn’t read it again any time soon because it made me sad (which I expected) but it also helped me get more compassion and understanding for people who committed suicide or have attempted it, for that reason I feel like it is an important community read.


Thoughts on… The House at 758 by Kathryn Berla

This review was sponsored by NetGalley. The eBook was given me for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Full disclosure: I chose this book for its cover first, and for its blurb second. Shallow, but true.

Initially, the blurb actually put me off reading the book. In part, it described a tale of “a sixteen year old girl who is grieving the untimely death of her mother when her father’s new girlfriend moves into their home… When a fellow classmate, Jake, takes a sudden interest in her, Krista feels excited for the first time in two years”

To me that was code for Tragic, Depressing Experience and Teen Drama Resolved By Cute Boy. I was ready to hit backspace but the words, “Distancing herself from those around her, Krista spends all of her time obsessively watching a mysterious house, the house at 758” that peculiar sentence along with the lovely cover made me just curious enough to give the book a try.

I am so glad I read it.

Let me tell you what this book is not:

  • this is not a depressing book
  • it’s not a teen angst book
  • it’s not a cliché YA romance
  • it’s not what I expected

Berla writes this story beautifully, her prose is descriptive but not wordy. Her character development is lifelike and endearing. She writes from the point of view of Krista, an introverted teenager struggling to adjust to life after the death of her mother. In this story we are not given an in-depth confession of her grief and pain, but it does become subtly apparent (which I was glad of seen as I wasn’t in the mood to read a book in the tone of The Bell Jar.)

Krista’s summer is the timeline in which this 158-page novella is set. Short, huh? And yet, just long enough. We are taken from her listless days before her best friend goes away for the summer to stay with family, right up to the resolution of the mystery of the house at 758.

The romance with Jake features in this story as much as I feel it should – just enough to progress the narrative yet leave you wanting more. A lot else happens in Krista’s journey, and the lack of focus on the romance was both refreshing and realistic. Krista is tasked with looking after her grandfather for the summer, I was expecting my interest in the story to decline with his arrival, but to my delight he was so charming, interesting and fundamental to Krista’s progress in moving on with her life that I was sorry to see him go.

There were times I just couldn’t work out where the story would go, which is something I love in a book. There was far less dialogue than I have become used to, having read a lot of YA recently, but I didn’t miss it much. I guess that since Krista is more wrapped up in her thoughts than in conversation, it is only natural that we would get more summaries of conversations than play-by-play until we get to something worthwhile. Perhaps this is the author’s style, I don’t know since I haven’t read her before.

Berla made me care about the characters, especially Krista, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen to her. I guessed what the deal with the house at 758 was, but the way events unfolded with that was unexpected. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book like this, and it has made me interested in reading more books by this author.

I would recommend this novella to anybody who likes to read empathetic but non-melodramatic stories, enjoys a little romance, and is marginally interested in either San Francisco, Budapest or the Holocaust. I don’t go out of my way to read books on any of those three topics, which made this even more interesting since it offered me first person glimpses into events and places I’m not very familiar with. This was a 4 out of 5 for me and I’d definitely read it again.

Publishing Date: 17 Oct 2017