The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I've struggled over the past week as to how I review this book. No question, 13 Reasons Why (Razorbill, 2007) is a stunningly written novel. Listed for grades 7 and up (due to mature themes and language), this debut from author Jay Asher made quite a stir when it was released, earning rave reviews. While I'm a bit late on the bandwagon, this is one of those books that I have no doubt will be around a long, long while. And for good reason.

It's important.

There are some books that, as an adult, you think: if only every teenager would read this and take it to heart, maybe things would be different. The subject of teenage suicide is a difficult one, but Asher tackles it head on with an engaging premise that not only hooks you from the first page, but drags you along through the trainwreck to follow. And by trainwreck, I mean Hannah Baker's life.

High school student Clay Jensen comes home to find a package waiting for him. Inside are a bunch of cassette tapes. He's able to listen to these antiquated recordings thanks to the old cassette player in the garage. Curious, he pops one in and hears the voice of a girl he'd crushed on for years. A girl who committed suicide a few weeks before.

Hannah Baker has left a detailed suicide note in the form of these tapes, and on them are her 13 reasons why she's decided to end her life. The people involved (each star in their own personal cassette side) are told pointedly by Hannah how they contributed to her downfall.

After listening to all the stories on the tapes, they are instructed to send them on to the next person. Hannah has even taken steps to ensure everyone hears her words by making a second set, which will be publicly released if the tapes don't continue their journey to the end.

Clay is stunned. He can't imagine what he could have done to Hannah to be included on this horrific list. But he's compelled to listen, not simply because it is required, but because he's desperate to understand why Hannah did what she did.

Asher tells the story alternating between Clay's first person POV and Hannah's voice on the tapes, and the result is captivating. The audio edition, which I listened to, was mesmerizing in the performances and that you feel as if you are listening along with Clay.

But back to the importance of this book. High school is not the easiest time in anyone's life, and even for the privileged and popular, it can be tough. Struggling with self-discovery, it's too easy to overlook the little things we do to each other that can be hurtful. If this story does anything, it points out that everyone has a chance to make another's life better, or worse. Everything affects everything.

Hannah's downward spiral is slow and painful, and listening to it is, as I said, like watching a trainwreck happen before your very eyes (or ears). Clay's anguish and helplessness are palpable and while the ending does offer some hope, most of this book is horribly depressing. But it should be. A story about someone ending their own life absolutely should be depressing, and teenagers in particular need to always remember that small kindnesses can be a glimmer of hope to someone in pain.

While that sounds preachy, Asher's book is anything but. One of the many reasons why 13 Reasons Why should be required reading for high school freshmen. This story has stuck with me for days now, I keep thinking about how high school really hasn't changed that much since I was there -- and that the human element of the way certain people are treated never seems to change. Asher captures this so well through the voices of both Hannah and Clay.

A strong 4 bookmarks.


Texasholly said...

I am so glad to read this. I would have read the book cover and put it back because of the heavy subject. I am going to send this on to a friend who is looking for reading for her 12 year old daughter.

So glad I ran across you on Twitter! I am adding your blog to my reader.

Kimberly J. Smith said...

Thanks for the comment, Texasholly. Don't know if you saw it, but there was an article in the WSJ a couple of weeks ago about how dark and heavy books are all the rage with teens right now -- including 13 RW and another of my FAVORITE books The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I really liked the points it made about how these grim storylines include hope and a conquering of the dark. Here's the link in case you'd like to read it:

Thanks for commenting!

LibraryDoggies said...

I really enjoyed this book. Whilst the theme is dark, the structure of each person's past maintains a certain distance. Clay's voice and anguish are wonderfully described. I feet the end has some hope, even after the insistent effect of the cumulative episodes. I could not put it down. There are some great teen male voices out there at the moment - eg Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. In Australia check out the guys in 'Jarvis 24' and 'Measuring Up'.