This book turns up on a lot of people's wishlists for the same reason it was originally on mine, I guess, which is because it's appeared quite a bit on lists of challenged books, and even made it to number three in the ALA's top ten most frequently challenged books of 2012. In all honesty, people attempting to ban something just makes me want to read it more. I'm sure it's that way for a lot of us.
Anyway, because of all the great posts I kept reading about it during Banned Books Week the past two years, onto my wishlist it went, and it was sent to me as part of the Halloween Ninja Book Swap last year and I've just now got around to reading it. Part of me was avoiding it because I expected it to be incredibly depressing. In case you have no idea why I'd be expecting that, here's a synopsis, taken from the back of the book:
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.
So yeah, I was expecting to be really super depressed by this awful, heavy novel about how horrible people are, and it wasn't like that at all.
Actually, what I found Thirteen Reasons Why to be was a book about how the smallest of our actions can affect others in ways we have no idea about. It's a novel about self - awareness and doing the right thing and the catastrophic consequences caused by people keeping quiet and not reaching out to each other when they have the chance. Many of the thirteen people on Hannah's list are people who didn't do things, rather than people who did. It's also a book about the power that reputation has on teenagers, and I know that when I was a teenager quite often your reputation had nothing to do with anything you'd ever actually done but was purely based on things people had said about you. The novel explores the way that an invented reputation can affect the person burdened with it, and how it's possible to be a completely different person from who everyone else thinks you are.
I think my favourite thing about it, though, apart from the complexity of how the plot wove together, which was brilliant, was that the whole way through as he's listening to the tapes and becoming increasingly upset and frustrated with all the people (himself included) who failed to stop Hannah from killing herself, Clay keeps reiterating that it was Hannah's choice. In the end, by the time that she'd decided to kill herself, there was not much any of them could have done to stop it. If a person is having suicidal feelings there are signs you should look out for, and there are things you can do, and possibly ways to prevent it, but in this case, by the time she'd decided, she'd decided and it was her decision. For me, that's an incredibly important message to give to teenagers who may be in the situation (as I know a large number of teenagers unfortunately are) of having a friend commit suicide. Do everything in your power to help people if you can, and always try to be aware of your actions and how they can impact others, but realise that if somebody has got to the point of actually killing themselves, that's a decision that they've ultimately made on their own.
Aside from that I'm not going to comment further on the banning issues except to say that I think it's silly to deem a novel containing these issues as 'unsuitable for age group' when the age group is (whether or not you want to believe it) dealing with issues surround sex and sexuality and suicide. Surely giving them reading material which helps them engage in ways to deal with and prevent the darker side of situations is helpful?
Anyway, I'll finish by saying that if you haven't read this, it should be on your list. It's really well written and way less depressing and more thought-provoking than I expected. Well done, Mr Asher.
I read this book as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, a blogging event being hosted by Uncorked Thoughts. Please visit the blog, where there are all kinds of awesome posts and giveaways spotlighting mental health issues. Also, here's a helpful article on how to help a suicidal friend with the helpline number to call in the US, and here's a UK equivalent. Reading about mental health issues is, in my opinion, one of the first and most important steps we can take towards making them less stigmatised. People need help, not judgement.