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Saturday, September 5, 2009

YA Author Spotlight Saturday Presents... Jay Asher's Book!!!

Hi everyone!

Jay AsherI had hoped to have an interview from Jay Asher today, but he must be on vacation or something  because I did send him my interview questions, but I haven't heard from him since I sent him the questions.  I do, however, have an image of him and his book that he sent me, which I am using today.  I apologize for the lack of the author's presence here, but that doesn't mean that I cannot talk about his book.

I will discuss this book, Thirteen Reasons Why.  I am warning you right now, this review will contain a minimum amount of spoilers.  It's up to you if you choose to read on.  When I do reviews, I tend to focus more on the overall picture of the book and the characters.  I do my best to not give away key details of the book.  If I did, why would you read it?

The point of this review is not to retell you what happens, but to tell you what I feel works, what doesn't work and why.  In the end, whether you read this book should be ultimately your decision based on a few key facts.

Fact 1 - This book is about the suicide of Hannah Baker
Fact 2 - Hannah Baker is dead throughout the entire book
Fact 3 - Clay Jensen receives a box of cassette tapes from an anonymous someone with Hannah Baker's voice on them 
Fact 4 - The journey of the book takes you through Clay's time listening to the book
Fact 5 - The book was written for teens
Fact 6 - The book was written by a man (Sounds sexist, right?  Well, there's a reason you need to consider this and I'll get to that, eventually.)

The facts I've given you so far will not alter how you see this book, because it's pretty much given to you on the cover/jacket flap.

Thirteen Reasons WhyOn Goodreads, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.  I gave this book 4 stars because what he wrote, he wrote well.  It may not all work for me, but it was well written, and I could not deny the author this.  Plus, I thought the audio version was done well.  However, there were some things that just didn't work too well for me.  To be honest, I think that my own personal experience with suicide and the people that I have met who have tried or succeeded in committing suicide has shaped the way I look at the events in this book, particularly Hannah Baker herself.

Lets start with what works in this book. 

Clay Jensen. 

I don't know why, but he works for me.  Some see him painted as being "perfect," but that's not quite right.  He is given 13 tapes (one for each reason) that he needs to listen to, to find out why Hannah Baker killed herself and why he was receiving the tapes to begin with.  Clay is a teenage boy who is, I have to say somewhat weak.  He sees people doing things that he doesn't like, but never says anything to these people, never gets involved, he just worries about himself and his own actions, the way most teenage boys would be.  He tries to be good, and in doing so, just doesn't interact much with other people. 

Why does he work for me? 

Well, Asher did a really great job of conveying Clay's confusion at being on this list and his need to continue to listen, his need to learn the part he played in all of it.  The way I see it, it's his overwhelming desire to be good that drives him to continue to listen, to learn how he failed someone, to learn from it and not do it again.  That's how I saw Clay Jensen.  Excellent character and is the sole reason I kept listening.  I began to want to know why this kid was on the list.     

Listening to it in audio format over reading the book worked for me, but I also think it hurt my take on this book too. 

What doesn't work for me?  

Honestly, I thought it was 13 sides and never realized, until now, that it was 13 cassettes.  That really confuses things even further and makes the driving force even less idealistic.  Let's look at things logically.  Each cassette is at least 30 minutes per side which equates to 1 hour per tape.  The book itself isn't even 13 hours, but half of that, which equates to roughly 1 reason per side, and 7 tapes overall.  Having used cassettes myself, and the fact they are expensive these days because the format is so antiquated, it doesn't make logical, economical sense.  Besides, with all of today's current media, why would anyone want to use cassettes when digital is easier to use and way more accessible?  Not only that, it's a lot cheaper to make two discs than to use tapes.  I don't see the cuteness in that.  It's just not logical.  Asher didn't really do a good job in covering that aspect of why Hannah used tapes and not digital means.  So, that part didn't really fly with me.

What else doesn't work for me?

Hannah Baker herself.


Well, I just couldn't wrap my head around this character or her reactions to her situations.  This is where I wonder how well a man can really get into the head of a woman, much less a teenage girl.  Okay, this girl has 13 things happen to her that humiliate her to the point where she "knowingly" does things to humiliate herself.  Okay, that I get.  I can buy that.  What I can't buy into is that, with as suicidal and hanging by a thread that the author tries to portray her to be, she is aware enough to go through each incident one by one and blame all the people responsible for it.

Huh?  I'm sorry, but I've been there and I've talked to people who have been there and read stories from people who have been there and not once did anyone ever say that they were killing themselves for the reason Hannah picked nor were they even thinking beyond how miserable they felt and they didn't know if they could handle the pain.  My lists of people follow, but for the sake of those involved, I am leaving their names off.

Person 1 - was a friend in high school.  She had a really bad, humiliating incident happen when she was in school.  She was so devastated that she just ran blindly away from the group of kids humiliating her right into oncoming traffic.  Because it was a school zone, the cars were driving slower by nature, so she was lucky that the car stopped as she ran into it and no real damage was done.  She told me she wasn't thinking about anything other than how hurt and humiliated she felt and her reaction was instantaneous.  After she had some time to think about it, she realized what it would have done to her mom and she still couldn't believe that she'd done it.

Person 2 - was someone in my family.  No one saw it coming.  His wife had just ended what seemed to be a very "positive" telephone conversation.  Even his brother, who he was staying with, didn't hear or see any reason to worry, until he hung up the telephone.  In that flick of an instant, he changed.  He slammed down the phone (yeah, this was back before cellphones and cordless phones were a regular feature in homes) and from what I was told, he left saying he needed to go for a drive, to get some air or something of that nature.  It wasn't until after he had left did it click with anyone that something might be wrong.  They were too late.  After it happened, it came out the he had always been depressed and had been talked down from suicide on more than one occasion but was never treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist or meds of any kind.  And, for some reason, as he grew older, he must have seen therapy as something negative and not helpful.   

Of course, because I was the "youngest" person in the family, no one thought fit to tell me about his problem, even though just about everyone close to him knew.  I was as close to him as they were, I should have been told before this.  Now, some of may say why should they, but I say, why couldn't they?  Yes, this is survivors guilt talking, and I'll be dealing with it until the day I die, but here it is - if I had known how he felt, if my family members had thought enough of me to tell me, I could have helped him.  We could have helped each other.   He could still be alive.


Because, the eventual reasons that lead to his depression his attempts and him eventually committing suicide were some of the same reasons I almost did two years later.  Where nothing could stay his hand, stop him from, well, let's just leave it at that, something stayed mine.  I don't know what or who, but I expect that it was Mark.  Mark was there to give me strength when I needed it the most.  Which leads me to

Person 3 - Me.  I had been the kid everyone picked on for years, I grew up feeling like crap and I remember crying at the age of 5 for what I said was "no reason" but was really because I felt completely miserable with myself.  Things didn't get any better either because it got worse for awhile in grade school, up until I finally stood up for myself.  I don't know why I had done it.  Even to this day I still can't believe I did it.  One of my habitual taunters was riding his bike by me and taunting me.  I don't know what came over me, but I pulled him right off of that bike and threw him to the ground.  Then, he got up and kicked me in my private area.  Boy did that hurt, but I didn't start crying or rolling on the ground, I just stood there and looked at him.  He and the rest of them left me alone after that.  It didn't make me feel any better about myself, it just made the taunting stop.

Well, eventually, I got to high school, which I can honestly say sucked!  But I endured it.  I also endured losing several people in my life.  From the time I was 17 until I was 19, I attended 17 out of 20 funerals/wakes.  The first was my grandmother, my rock, my roots, without her, I was lost.  Then I lost my cousin (who was my age but by the cruel twist of fate, the vaccine that made me safe, turned her into a lifelong infant), my best friend and my grandfather - all within the span of 6 months, but the loss didn't stop there.  When all was said and done, I had gone to 17 of 20 funerals and I can't remember if I even went to the wakes of those.  Not sure.  One of the wakes was a double - two people killed in the same accident.  It still hurts thinking about it.  But I survived all of that, somehow.

Then one day, after I had dropped out of MSOE, worked, played D&D, made a lot of friends and then met the man who is now my husband - all positive things, right - completely out of the blue and unexpected because I hadn't had a suicidal thought in years, so I thought I was clear.  Then it happened.  I was doing a simple thing.  Slicing cheese to put on my sandwich and the thought struck me.  I put the serrated steak knife to my wrist and thought, "Hey this knife wouldn't work because it was too dull, but there are sharper ones in the other drawer...."   Huh? Where they hell did that come from and why was it all I could think about?  Why did I want to do this?  Why did I feel so awful?

I didn't know until some time later, after I had finished all of the therapy.  But what happened?  Well, I had something hold my hand and I remembered Mark.  I didn't want that, but I didn't know how to stop my self.  I called my mother and asked for help,

but she said, "when I get home, I'll look in the book."

to which I said, "I need help now!  It can't wait!"

Obviously, I got the help I needed because I am here with you today. 

Not once did any of us have forethought to "tape" the reasons why we wanted to kill ourselves.  Hell, if we could have done that, they would have been paying us the big bucks by now! 
Talking about your problems is cathartic, writing about your problems is cathartic, which is why therapists make you do it, or suggest really strongly anyway.  So, how could this "troubled girl" feel so lost that she'd want to kill herself, yet be strong enough to tell it all to tapes and at the same time, analytical enough to realize that she only had herself to blame for some of the situations she got herself into and still go on and kill herself? 

It just doesn't fit with me.  It doesn't make any sense to me.  In fact, the way Asher paints her, Hannah Baker is cold and vindictive because she basically she says to these people, I killed myself and your the reason why, how do you like that? and how does that make you feel to know that? (or some variation of these questions, but they're close) she asks at one point on the tapes that Clay is listening to.  Okay, how does that make her a victim?  How does that justify or explain any of it?  It doesn't.  It also isn't logical.

People who are depressed and hate themselves, commit suicide.  People who are depressed and hate the way they were treated by specific people, commit murder - columbine and other high school shootings have taught us that. Depressed people who are given lifelines, a light at the end of the tunnel, take them. 

As I read it, the author does nothing to truly establish Hannah Baker as a person with low self-esteem with no way out, no lifelines.  That's why Hannah and the method do not work for me.  I gave 4/5 stars because of Clay and that, with a few minor tweaks to the story, it could rock and stand the test of time and experience.  

But don't take my word for it, read the book and draw your own conclusions, just keep in mind those list of facts I gave you earlier. 

Note: Yes, I do believe that teen suicide is an issue that needs to be talked about, which is why I wanted to interview this author.  If you have your own story, or views of this book, that you would like to share, please do and know that you are not alone in your suffering!  Yes, drugs and doctors can help you through the rough patch, but then it's up to you to use the tools they give you to finish the job. 

3 Moonbeams (comments):

Sheila Deeth said...

You've reviewed a book and given so much food for thought I feel like I've just read a book. And yes, I think you're right. That paragraph about "people who are depressed." I think you're right. But most of all, you've got me thinking.

Carrie said...

Thanks for stopping by Sheila!

Kimberly Joy Peters said...

Thank you for your very honest, very personal insight into a topic that is still considered taboo. I own Thirteen Reasons Why, and I wanted to read it to my middle grade class. Unfortunately, although the topic was relevant and interesting to my students, it didn't make a good "read aloud" because the narrative switches constantly from Clay to Hannah's voice. The font changes made the voices visually easy to identify, but it was a challenge to actually DO the voices out loud with enough variety for students to easily follow along. In the end, it makes for better "personal" reading.