I have been getting the sense that I may be the last book blogger out there who doesn’t read YA.
So I decided to see what the fuss was about, and dipped my foot into the YA stream. I just finished Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, which is a popular YA novel from a few years ago. The book is about Clay, a high school student who receives a mysterious box of cassettes in the mail. The cassettes turn out to be recordings by a fellow student, Hannah Baker, who killed herself a few weeks earlier. On the tapes, she has recorded the “thirteen reasons why” she killed herself. Those thirteen reasons turn out to be thirteen of her classmates who did various things over the course of high school that contributed to her despair.
In Thirteen Reasons Why, Clay listens to the tapes in order (he received them because he is one of the reasons, and is to pass them along to the person listed after him), and intersperses her dialogue with his narration and reactions to what Hannah says.
I am going to start with the good. I admire Jay Asher for taking this subject on, and I bet that this book is a powerful one for teenagers. The message is that your actions have effects on people, even ones you don’t intend, and that careless, thoughtless, and downright cruel actions can cause terrible consequences. There are testimonials all over the book from readers who say that it changed, even saved, their lives, and I can see why.
This book lent itself well to audio, thanks to the alternating structure of Clay’s and Hannah’s voices. It’s suspenseful, and kept me interested. The actors were pretty good at sounding like teenagers. And I liked listening to Hannah’s tapes, rather than reading them, just as Clay had.
Reading this book as an adult, I found it overwrought. Perhaps I am too old now to relate to being a teenager (though I doubt this, because I read plenty of coming-of-age novels that I find very compelling). I found Hannah’s problems to be big, but not unsurmountable. She had paths out that she didn’t take. Her actions were too premeditated to convey the desperation that she supposedly felt. Emotionally, I didn’t find this to be a particularly satisfying read.
One other quibble – I don’t like books that take place in real time. This whole book basically takes place in less than 24 hours – which I always find sort of exhausting and unrealistic.
I won’t judge all of YA on this book, of course. I just didn’t love this one. I’ll try something else soon.
Oh, hi FTC! Paper and audio were both courtesy of the D.C. Library.