If you’ve been reading my posts or tweets over the past few weeks you’ll probably have seen that I have been obsessing over Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why, and I’m far from the only one. There’s definitely a lot of hype around it and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not an easy watch but it’s completely engrossing and at times heartbreaking.
The book the show’s based on was actually written more than 10 years ago by Jay Asher and was one that I’d been wanting to read for a while but had never gotten around to until very recently.
If the show’s so good you might be asking yourself what the point is in reading the book so rather than doing my usual review I thought I’d give you the 13 reasons why I think its worth reading (I may regret this as 13 is quite a lot). Before I do though, here’s the synopsis, just in case you’ve never heard of it 🙂
Synopsis (from GoodReads)
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life… forever.
13 Reasons Why You Should Read It
Reason 1 – It’s the original story
I always think it’s good to know where the idea and the basis for shows and films come from. I have been known to pick my reads based on which shows or films are coming out as I like reading the source and being able to compare the two.
Reason 2 – It deals with some very difficult issues
Suicide, sexual assault, harassment, mental illness and dealing with loss all feature at some point in this book. You may not think the author deals with them correctly or you might think he does it perfectly but it will definitely get you thinking and more importantly discussing them. They’re all important issues and the recurring theme throughout the book is that if Hannah had really reached out and asked for help or if others had paid more attention and just been nicer things could have ended differently. These are all issues young people will no doubt encounter so it’s important that they’re discussed.
Reason 3 – The format is very unique
In the authors notes at the end Asher says that the format of this book actually came before the idea for the story. He was inspired by audio tours (you know where you wander round a gallery/castle/museum and listen to a recording of someone telling you about the thing you’re looking at) and wanted to do a book that was like that, he just needed the right story.
The book captures this feel exceptionally well and for me this was definitely the highlight. You essentially listen to the story along with Clay and travel with him to the places Hannah identifies on a map. Her story in her own words is interspersed with Clay’s reactions to what he both hears and sees on his journey. It did take me a little while to get used to this format but once I did I absolutely loved it.
Reason 4 – It has a very narrow and intense focus
The focus is very much on the tapes and Clay’s reaction to what he hears. Unlike the show, there are no side stories about a court case, or Hannah’s family’s struggling store. It’s just Clay learning what exactly was going through Hannah’s head and what drove her to do what she did (or what she claims were the driving forces). It makes it a very intense and absorbing read.
Reason 5 – Everything happens over a short space of time
It’s a very quick read and the whole thing takes place over the space of a night as Clay makes his way through the tapes and follows the map to various points around town. Again this makes it quite an intense read as Clay swings through a range of emotions in a very short space of time. It does possibly lack a bit of the depth from the TV show but the show has 13 episodes and releases the tapes gradually over that period (something which frustrated the hell out of me), allowing it to focus on each name in a lot more detail. Personally I think the author does a fantastic job of putting so much into such a short space of time (and it feels a lot more real than someone taking days to listen to tapes which name them as responsible).
Reason 6 – Hannah is a bit of a mystery
Hannah only appears in the book as a voice on a tape and through Clay’s memories so for me she remained a bit of a mystery. The tapes are essentially a suicide note so you have to assume she’s not in a stable frame of mind and not a reliable narrator. Even Clay as he listens to the tapes begins to realize how little he really knew her or what was going on in her head. She comes across as quite bitter and angry and I found it difficult to have a lot of sympathy for her. A lot of the time I was actually quite angry with her, why would you send tapes to people blaming them for your death, but I think it’s good that the author created these complex emotions around her as you can feel what Clay feels.
Reason 7 – Clay
Clay is an absolutely wonderful character. The author has done a brilliant job of portraying your average, clueless teenage boy who’s struggling to deal with the loss of someone he cared about. In fairness he does come across as very sweet and innocent (and nicer than most of the teenage boys I know). He’s clever, well mannered, insecure and obviously had a major crush on Hannah but didn’t know what to think about the rumours about her and her reputation. For me this book actually felt more about Clay in many ways than Hannah.
Reason 8 – There are no flashbacks
The whole story is very much in the moment, something which I loved. You listen to the tape with Clay and you get his instant reaction (at times it’s almost like a dialogue between them). There’s no jumping around in time or long drawn out flashbacks. Hannah tells you what happened and Clay reacts. It’s simple but it works.
Reason 9 – No other perspectives/secondary characters
You may like this or you may hate it but there are very few characters who interact with Clay while he listens to the tapes (his mother, a bus driver, a waitress, Tony). We hear Hannah talk about other students and teachers and their behavior and actions but you never get anyone other than Clay’s perspective. No one is given the chance to tell their side of the story or argue their case against inclusion on the tapes. You have no way of judging whether Hannah’s telling the truth or not.
Reason 10 – More open/raises more questions
Linked to the previous point, because none of the characters are given the chance to tell their side of the story it does make you question whether events happened as Hannah claimed and whether there’s an element of over reaction. Was it really so bad that Hannah had no other choice but to commit suicide? A lot of the events described in the book seem quite mild, particularly when you compare to how they are portrayed in the show, and it did make me wonder if these were the real reasons or just a chance to get revenge. I also thought there were a few people who really didn’t deserve to be on the tapes.
There are also a few hints scattered throughout the story that Hannah’s had issues in the past which again made me think that the tapes may not be the whole story.
Reason 11 – It’s less brutal and shocking than the show
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying they felt that the book glamorizes suicide or at least makes it seem like a good way to get back at people who’ve upset you. I honestly don’t think that’s the case although I can understand why some would think this given the light touch the author uses. The show is more explicit and more brutal and I think that’s right for it but I don’t think the book needs it or that it would work. I feel like if the author had made the story more brutal and shocking it would have faced more criticism. I do think it lacks a little of the emotion it could have had but it’s still quite a powerful read.
Reason 12 – The writing is just really good
I really like Jay Asher’s writing. There’s something very real and natural feeling about it. As I mentioned it was missing a little depth and emotion but Clay as a character is brilliant and the whole format and style of the book works so well.
Reason 13 – You can say you’ve read it
Like Clay, this probably doesn’t belong on the list but lets face it who doesn’t like being able to say they’ve read the book when everyone is talking about the show. You can point out all of the differences and why you think this worked better or that’s not as good.
So that’s my thirteen reasons. Overall I did think it was a really good book and definitely worth reading, ideally before watching the show. If you want to know my rating I gave it 4 stars.
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy. All thoughts are as always my own.