I put this review off for quite some time now, only because I needed a cool head before I could give my take on it. I will also draw some parallels to the TV show so if you haven’t seen that yet, fair...
warning: there might be some spoilers....
Thirteen Reasons Why is a pretty controversial book and you can easily see why. It is my general belief that the world nowadays had got a bit oversensitive, but this is not one of those cases. The idea that this book glamorizes suicide is backed up by very strong arguments.
And this whole problem starts with the central character of the story, Hannah Baker. She commits suicide and sends out tapes in which she uncovers the motives behind her decision and the people ‘responsible’ for it. Now, I put ‘responsible’ in quotes because, in the end, it was Hannah’s decision to die. And, for all the flack that I might get for it, at least for me, it did not make a lot of sense. Full disclosure: I know you shouldn’t blame the victim, but if you read this book, prepare to feel irritated with Hannah. It might be just me, but I found her needy, narcissistic and overall an unlikable semi-protagonist.
And trust me, in a book about suicide that is hard to do. But Asher does it. He makes you roll your eyes at Hannah’s constant and (a lot of times unwarranted) whining. Hannah has indeed some shitty things happening to her and you can’t expect all people to be strong, but even so, it felt more and more as the book went on that Hannah did some things just to justify to herself the ‘need’ to take her life. It was truly shocking at some points how she put herself in situations that could’ve easily been avoided.
Now let’s talk about Clay, the novel’s other protagonist. I found him way more likable, even if a bit naive. It is quite obvious that Clay’s love for Hannah is much stronger than the other way around. There is a point where Clay discovers his own tape among those Hannah made to accuse those that lead her to her death and at that point I really started looking forward to the plot twist. I thought: well, if he has a tape then something must have happened. But no. He has no reason for being there. Hannah herself says so, which makes it even more stupid. And all the while Clay suffers because of it, fearing why Hannah would blame him. As I said, I found Hannah to be needy and unfair in a lot of things. Another example would be the tape with the shrink, where Hannah says she as presented with the only two choices possible in our very limited world: to say who ‘raped’ her and go from there or to find a way to move on. Of course she chose neither and decided to blame the shrink for not trying enough. And I have to ask myself at this point if the fact that I am a guy clouds my judgement. Am I the only one thinking that is stupid? What did she want him to do more than that?
And I think you saw that I placed the word ‘rape’ in quotes. I know this is a sensitive subject, but hear me out. I talked to a good friend of mine who also read the book. She is a woman and I wanted her take on it just because I did not want to sound like a jerk. And she felt just like me. So Hannah goes to this party. She herself can predict what will happen. She says so. Even Clay says that she did it only to break the last bonds that kept her from committing suicide. And there she lays in the pool and this guy comes to her and starts touching her and stuff. And here is the biggest issue: I know there must be consent, but she says nothing. Absolutely nothing. And silence might not consent, but Hannah doesn’t even try. Like, at all. She just stays there and lets it happen to her. And even on the tape she doesn’t say that she was terrified to the point of complete silence. Just that he should’ve guessed that she would not like it. And I am like: are you serious? It’s like she expected him to read minds. It’s like going to a lion’s den and ask yourself why he attacked you. Am I being insensitive here? Because that is really not my intent.
Now, I said I will draw some parallels to the TV show, and that I will do. I felt that the show did a way better job at underlining the fact that the world is not separated in good people and evil people. There are a lot of grey areas. But maybe that is why I found Hannah even worse in the TV series. And as a side note, I found Justin’s story IN THE TV SHOW much more compelling than Hannah’s. You can’t compare reasons that would send people to take their lives, but even so Justin’s story IN THE SHOW is way sadder than Hannah’s. Maybe that was one of the reasons why Show-Hannah was even more annoying than book-Hannah. Another reason would be that Show-Hannah hurts Clay even more and I found that truly despicable.
And that is about all. Hope I did not make people mad. For a time I actually considered not writing this review just because I might offend some. But that is not how the world should go. So here it is.