Thirteen Reasons Why (Book Review)

Thirteen Reasons Why (Book Review)

My intentions were to spend a part of Saturday to start this book, perhaps reading the first few chapters, just to get the ball rolling.

By Saturday evening, I was putting the book down, done pouring through the thirteen stories a dead teenager leaves behind in order to explain the reason she committed suicide.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a tremendously addictive Young Adult novel, written by Jay Asher.

13-2The premise is that a girl kills herself, and leaves behind a set of tapes, explaining all of the reasons that she decided to end her life. When the first person is done with the tapes, they are expected to send them along to the next person on the list, so that they can all hear about the part that they played in her life, and her death.

In a way, it is the ultimate revenge for someone who has taken their own life. In another, it is a commentary on how the way we behave, and treat others, can have such a profound effect on the lives of those around us.

The central character of the novel is Clay, a good guy, who receives the tapes on his doorstep one day. He is horrified and haunted by what Hannah has done, considering that he always has a crush on her. Asher creates a great suspense story here, as we, like Clay, are left wondering and dreadfully anticipating his portion of her story: what he did wrong that contributed to the demise of Hannah.

The stories told by Hannah are chilling. Her voice on the recorder, leaving nothing unturned. She exposes the people at her school for being the bad people that they are, and there are thirteen people on the list that are going to hear these stories, as they pass along the tapes. She talks about good people who aren’t actually that good, and bad people who are actually worse than they appear. She goes after everyone, as she takes us through her downward spiral towards her fateful decision to take her own life. It can be painful at times, and one can only imagine what the people hearing the tapes were going through, hearing about their issues in that manner.

What Hannah does to the people she has left behind is cruel punishment for them, essentially blaming them for her being dead. But on the other side, shouldn’t people be aware of how their actions affect others? Or is this something that she has done in order to ruin the lives of others, as they have ruined hers? Is it fighting fire with fire? These are the types of questions that can be discussed at the completion of the novel.

Everything culminates with Hannah making one last attempt to be saved, unfairly going to a teacher, and expecting more than she gets in return, therefore adding him to the list. It is disturbing, and in my opinion, places the blame on someone other than herself for doing what she did.

13-3This novel is truly addictive, and is a very strong read. There is suspense throughout, and it is pretty well written. At times, the dual narrative between Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s thoughts while listening to the tapes can be confusing, or too quick, but once the novel settles in, the reader will get used to it.

There are a lot of unanswered questions with this novel, and endless possible debates about the ethics of what Hannah had done. At the end of the day, however, Asher has created a great, page-turning novel about a very touchy and damaging subject: teen suicide.

In the YA genre, Thirteen Reasons Why is a very good book. In my opinion, it is better than similar books, like Speak, but not quite as strong as something like The Tragedy Paper (despite a very similar story) or Looking for Alaska. If anything, you will be getting a highly entertaining (I know that is the wrong word based on the subject matter) read, that will absolutely fly by. You will be craving to know the rest of Hannah’s story, as does Clay, in the novel.

*Doing a little research on the interwebs, I see that Thirteen Reasons Why is currently being made in to a film, starring Selena Gomez. Not surprising. It could be a very gritty film, if the producers are willing to do it that way. It could end up as serious cheese, as well. 

The Beginning of Everything (Book Review)

The Beginning of Everything (Book Review)

There were several things in this book that reminded me of Eleanor and Park. Considering I am one of the few people that mostly disliked that book, that is not necessarily a good comparison, because I really did like The Beginning of Everything, and felt that despite similarities to Eleanor and Park, this is the better Young Adult novel.

The story is based around how our lives truly begin after a tragedy occurs in our lives. How after that point, we begin living the way that we will, for the rest of our lives. Our narrator, Ezra, describes how his best friend caught the severed head of a Japanese tourist on a roller coaster ride at Disneyland when he was 12 years old. This was the tragedy that chose to befall him, and his life was never the same afterwards. 

The tragedy for Ezra is when he catches his beautiful girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After he plays the incident with a coolness unusual for a teenager in this position, he proceeds to get hit in a violent car accident, and it cripples his leg.

beginEzra had been the most popular guy in school, the star of the highly respected tennis team, and a generally decent person. His leg injury was his tragedy, and it changed how he was going to have to live his life. 

Feeling abandoned after the accident, upon his return to school, Ezra takes up with a different clique, including his old best friend Toby, who had been the one to catch the severed head years ago. Ezra eventually fits in with the new group, even joining the debate team, something his former self would have never dreamed of. Here, he meets the new girl to the school, and noted ace at debate, Cassidy. Their relationship forms the centrepiece of the novel, once Ezra has settled back into life and stopped always wallowing over the loss of his popular status. 

And it provides some of the most tender, fun, and surprising moments of the novel. The relationship between Ezra and Cassidy felt far more real to me than the one between Eleanor and Park, even if it was based on some of the same things, nerdier things. There is still talk of music, and comics, and Doctor Who, but I felt that it was more genuine in this novel, and I could buy their relationship as being more honest and believable than in the other novel. 

Being intended for Young Adult audiences, this novel is a coming of age story, about how we need to choose to start living our lives, and about how our memories persist with us, regardless of how hard we try to forget about them, or move past them. We remember, just as other people do too. 

What makes this novel strong is the frequent literary references, especially those related to The Great Gatsby. Ezra is reading the famous Fitzgerald novel, and for the first time, is finding himself connect with a book. There are many similarities between the musings of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby that relate to Ezra and what he goes through inhis life, especially when his relationship with Cassidy inevitably becomes more tumultuous than he would have liked. Even when looking at his dog, Cooper, Ezra feels that he is talking to him in a Gatsby-esque voice, ending all of what he imagines Cooper to be saying with “Old Sport.”

The references don’t end with Gatsby, and I feel this is clever, as hopefully if the reference is not recognized by the reader, it will open them up to looking it up, and having them learn something along the way. An example of this is the frequent references to Michel Foucault’s panopticon, and the basics of the theory behind it. There are many other literary references, and puns, which will happen when the main group of characters, and Ezra’s closest friends, are almost too smart for their own good. There is plenty of hipsterness to go around.

The Beginning of Everything has a little bit of everything. There is humour, which is a must-have in a YA novel. There is a plausible love story, with some sex, but not so much that it should only be for much older teen readers. And the coming of age is something that could probably be easy to relate to for many readers. If they don’t get what they are reading, or can’t understand what the characters are going through, then the message will be lost. But, we have all faced some kind of tragedy, as this is something that can connect with everyone, and I found that it really worked well in this novel. Author Robyn Schneider did a really good job of incorporating all of the elements into a page-turning YA book. She even manages to provide us with a surprising ending that wraps up the novel beautifully.

Recommended.