THIRTEEN REASONS WHY – JAY ASHER

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Published by Razorbill
Genres: Contemporary, YA fiction
For Fans of: Terribly written, irresponsible books about mental illness and suicide
My rating: 1 star out of 5

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 from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.


TRIGGER WARNINGS: Suicide, Rape, Depression

Sometime in 2012, I put this book firmly on my “Do Not Touch” list. This decision was, partly, made with my mental health’s best interests at heart (I was going through a bit of a spiral) and partly because a lot of people I trusted told me this was a terrible, problematic book.

Turns out they were right, because this book was a goddamned shitshow.

I’m writing this, seething. I am so beyond  angry with this book, I cannot collect my thoughts. So forgive me if this review doesn’t make the most sense and/or gets a little repetitive. I’m just going to type out a list I jotted down in my rage last night. (I’d just post pictures, but my handwriting gets illegible when I’m pissed)

REASONS WHY I HATE THIS GARBAGE BOOK AND WANT TO SET IT ON FIRE

1. IT IS IRRESPONSIBLE AS FUCK
When you’ve got a book that heavily revolves around a girl taking her own life, you have the chance to bring attention to mental illnesses and suicide. You have the chance to talk about the importance of getting help, and building a support system. This book did literally none of that. It trivialized suicide.

Hannah Baker’s suicide served only two purposes:
1) As fuel for Clay Jensen’s character development (if you could even call it that)
2) As a “mystery” plot device to drive the story forward.  To quote @ladydisdain: “Feels too much like titillation”

2. CLAY JENSEN IS SUCH A NICE GUY
Clay Jensen is probably the most insipid, whiny narrators I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. He’s a self-righteous, annoying White Knight hero who, like Hannah Baker, somehow manages to make every goddamned thing about him. I was in a constant state of wanting to punch him in the face with a cinderblock. This motherhugging shoeslipper spent the entire time listening to Hannah’s tapes and periodically interjecting with baleful, “BUT I-”
“I WOULD HAVE-”
“I NEVER-”
“YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME-“

Wahh wahh wahh. me me me. EVERYTHING was about him. just stfu and listen to the fucking tapes, you self-righteous whiny git.

3. HANNAH BAKER WAS THE ACTUAL WORST
This bitch. This raging bitch. Hannah Baker was wholly unlikable. She was petty, vindictive, and I would have clocked her with my bare fists if she weren’t already dead. SHE WAS THE WORST.   Don’t believe me?

She wasn’t depressed. Not one time, NOT ONE SINGLE TIME, does this book mention depression. (Trust me, I looked). And neither does Hannah show any signs of being depressed. As someone who has been depressed, and knows people who suffer from chronic depression, I think I’d know. No. Hannah was a self-made victim. She collected “reasons” to commit suicide (more on this later), and then meticulously planned her post-suicide messages to people who’d wrong her.

Essentially, she killed herself to exact revenge on this group of people. So that she could throw these tapes at them and leave them with guilt and proverbial blood on their hands. It was premeditated man.  REVENGE SUICIDE. I shit you not. It’s all kinds of fucked up, and a terrible message to send. (more later)

She chose to hide in a closet and watched a girl get raped without lifting a finger to stop it. And then, not even an hour after that, was also complicit in the death of another student – which, again, she could have prevented – and then chose to shovel the blame fully onto Jenny Kurtz’s lap.

Boo hoo. What a tragic life you lead, Hannah. Poor you.

4. REASONS FOR COMMITTING SUICIDE. LOL
Would it have been too much to ask that Asher did some research on the subject he chose to feature in his novel? Seriously?

People don’t commit suicide Because of Reasons! That’s not how this works! Depression is not a frickin flowchart of Tragic Events that lead you to suicide. Ever heard of a downward spiral, bub? Because that’s what it fucking is. It’s everything all at once. It’s a constant, heavy pain and sadness that feels incurable and unshakable.

Everyone, especially teenagers, feel the way Hannah Baker does at some point. Bad things happen sometimes. We get sad. This is not what leads people to commit suicide – but good job at telling people that suicide is the answer for this kind of temporary malaise, man. Great work, telling people that it’s totally normal to connect every sad thing that’s happened to you, however small, and use it to justify taking your own life. KUDOS. TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE WRITING

fuck off.

5. OTHER PEOPLE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
But that’s not what this book will have you believe. One of the biggest messages this book tells you is that your mental health is someone else’s responsibility.

I mean, why else would the baker’s dozen of reasons for her suicide be other people?

Why would Hannah go out of her way to get people to prove that they cared about her enough to convince her not to kill herself.

Why would the whole “If Clay had expressed his feelings to Hannah maybe she would have opened up to him and not kill herself” thing because such a loud, repetitive message in this book?

Why would she have said the words “Some of you cared… but not enough” (or some variation of this i’m not freaking opening the book to check)

Hannah took no responsibility for her own mental health. The one time she reached out to someone for help, it was a fucking test. It wasn’t a real reach. She just wanted to see if he’d respond the way she wanted him to. She was upset when people complimented her haircut instead of immediately wrapping her up in their arms and going, “NO BBY DON’T KILL YOURSELF”

The narrative didn’t even hold Hannah responsible for putting her mental state on other people – without their knowledge, even. It actually read like it sided with her. No, you precious little angel. You do not have to seek help. Other people should telepathically sense that you are suicidal, even though you’re barely showing any signs of it, and they should reach out to YOU. It is their duty!!!

This is an incredibly harmful, damaging thing to teach people. Don’t do it. People can help you. Support systems are important, so important for people who are suicidal. But no one can help you if you don’t want to be helped – if they don’t know you need help.

6. TRIGGERING CONTENT, BUT NO HELPFUL MESSAGE
Books that talk about suicide and depression are okay! Books containing triggering content and treat such content in a respectful manner are okay! Warn people that the books contain triggers, and tell a good, meaningful story. Telling stories about things that happen in real life is important. Helping people through stories is important. It’s all good.

You’d expect for a book like this, a book that deals so heavily with suicide – that has the flipping dead girl narrating most of the book – you’d think it’d have an important message to tell its audience. BITCH YOU THOUGHT. There is nothing even remotely enlightening or educational within the pages of this book. This book does absolutely ZERO to bring attention to the importance of getting help.

It does not tell you that it’s possible to get better. It doesn’t tell you that there are people who can help. It doesn’t talk about the benefits of reaching out to a professional. It doesn’t tell you that suicide is not the answer. The exact opposite, in fact.

This book puts its readers through a difficult, triggering journey, with absolutely meaningful reward at the end. There is no reason for anyone affected by this subject matter to read this book. NONE. You will gain NOTHING from it. No encouragement. No lesson about mental health. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

7. REVENGE SUICIDE !!!
You know the old adage? Cutting your nose off to spite your face? Yeah. That.

Hannah Baker did not kill herself because she was depressed. We’ve already been over this. Girl wasn’t depressed. Just angry and prone to self-victimization. She held on to offences to a point where they were all she noticed, and then one night, went home and DREW UP A FUCKING CHART, and decided that she was going to kill herself and blame it on a group of people she knew from school.

Yup.

And from then on, she spent a hefty chunk of her time recording the fucking Guilt Tapes she was going to send them. It was vindictive. It was spiteful. The whole thing was premeditated, and a hundred kinds of fucked up. She didn’t care about telling the truth. If she did, she would have just written a note and made sure the people who’d hurt her couldn’t do the same things to someone else. BUT NOOOoooOOOoo. She sent them tapes that they were ASKED TO KEEP TO THE LIST MEMBERS.

8. GLORIFIES SUICIDE, BUT RAPE IS BRUSHED PAST????
I’ve already mentioned that this book doesn’t bring any attention to mental illness and suicide prevention. No matter how you slice is, Hannah Baker wasn’t depressed. She was, however, a super speshul beautiful girl who took her life because horrible people were horrible to her and poor Clay Jensen the Knight in Shining Armor never got a chance to tell her his true FEEWINGS.

That’s it. This book tries to sell itself as a advocate for mental health awareness, but it’s not. It’s a fucking Manic Pixie Dream Girl story with a side serving of suicide and Sadness.

So while this book is busy going all “LOOK HOW SPESHUL HANNAH IS Y SHE KILL HERSELF SO SAD” it goes and does something that is unforgivable in my eyes. It completely brushes past rape.

In her tapes, Hannah condemns a boy for allowing a classmate to rape an old friend of hers. Condemns him for not stopping it. Condemns him for not saying anything after. She tells him that it weighs on her. And she tells him it’s one of her reasons for killing herself. Boo fucking hoo because well YOU KNOW BITCH? You were hiding in a fucking closet watching the entire thing happen!

And for those of you who are rushing to the comment section to tell me that she blamed herself for this, too – Save it. Hannah fucking Baker went on to send the rape victim a tape because she STOPPED BEING FRIENDS WITH HANNAH. AND she also went on to describe the rape – which the girl probably didn’t even remember happening SO GREAT JOB HANNAH, YOU JUST TRAUMATIZED A RAPE VICTIM WHO YOU COULD HAVE SAVED. FUCK YOU.

but through all this, the book doesn’t talk about Jessica. The book barely touches on the rape. Clay goes from “Oh, poor Jessica” to “OH NO HANNAH I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU HAD TO SEE THAT” in a heartbeat. It’s bullshit.

9.  DOESN’T DEAL WITH BULLYING RIGHT
I’m sure I don’t have to really explain this one much. I’m sure you’ve all gathered from all my previous posts.

But let’s just assume for a moment that this book was intended to be a message about the harmful impacts of bullying. Honey, it’s like you didn’t even try. Or if you did, it was a laughable effort. What a joke.

10. REACH OUT, GET HELP
I’m saying it because this book won’t. It’s too busy telling you that people should magically notice you’re in need of help. It’s too busy telling you that when you do, they’re not going to take you seriously, and they’re going to show you that they don’t care. It’s too busy telling you that professionals/adults are the villains.

This is a lie from HELL.

There are people out there who will do whatever they can to help you. They will listen. They will be there for you. They will talk. If they themselves cannot help, they will help you find professional avenues that will help. You are not alone. It does get better. But you have to be willing to be helped. Do not listen to the lies this shitstain of a book tries to feed you. There IS a better way. You are important. You are loved. You matter.

11. FUCK THESE TAPES. SERIOUSLY
Beyond the fact that the premise of these tapes is vile and disgusting – they also make no sense??? Like, literally why would you send a suicide Blame Game tape to a rape victim, a boy who stole a poem (????), and A BOY WHO LEGIT DID NOTHING BUT BE NICE TO YOU AND, BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION, SHOULDN’T EVEN BE ON THE TAPES ANYWAY, but not to, oh you know, the actual rapist????

PLEASE, for the love of all that is good, someone explain this to me. As much as I loathed Clay, he didn’t deserve to be on these tapes, now put in a place where he would spend his days plagued with blame and what-ifs. Jessica didn’t deserve these tapes. I mean, so she believed a rumor and slapped you. Big whoop. You watched her get raped. Tony sure as hell didn’t deserve to get these tapes. He was just fixing his car!

In her death, Hannah Baker had the chance to make amends. She could have sent the tapes to the authorities. She could have helped put a rapist away before he hurt anyone else. She could have made Jenny Kurtz face the consequences of her actions for what she did that night after the party. BUT NOoooo.

As I said before. Hannah Baker didn’t care about the truth. She didn’t care about helping others. She just wanted to punish people.

12. I SHOULD NOT BE HATING A SUICIDE VICTIM THIS WAY
I cannot even begin to tell you how much I hated myself when Marcus said the words “Hannah just wanted an excuse to kill herself”. Because honestly, my first thought was “yup”

Suicide is a terrible, terrible thing. For someone to feel so low and so heavy with despair that they don’t believe that there’s any way out but death? It’s tragic. It’s so incredibly saddening. “They just wanted an excuse to kill themselves” isn’t something I ever want to think about a suicide victim.

But this book is the reason why you’ll find people saying stupid shit like that when true tragedy strikes IRL. This is what irresponsible writing does. How many people has this book convinced that this is how suicide and depression work? That it’s systematic and linear like this – that it’s REASON-BASED??? This is the kind of damage a book like this does.

I didn’t want to think this of Hannah Baker. But that’s how she was written. Hannah Baker literally wrote up a list of reasons to kill herself. I mean. what the hell kind of message is this. Do you see how problematic this is??

13. IT’S NOT EVEN WELL-WRITTEN
Here’s one of the worst parts of this entire thing. I could understand the massive hype surrounding this book if it had been beautifully written. If the prose was sweeping and evocative. If the words on this pages inspired heart-wrenching emotion.

LOL.

The writing was juvenile. Filled to the brim with all that tell-not-show shit that I just L O V E. It was compelling only because of the “find out who’s next” nature of the tapes. But that’s it. There was legit nothing I could find that could justify the rabid fans of this book.

I don’t get it.

TO CONCLUDE:

This book was a dumpster fire waste of my time. I am angry. I am seething, and I have no idea how I’m going to go into the TV series with an open mind. It’s gross, and disgusting, and fuck anyone who tries to tell you it’s a responsible, meaningful story about mental health and suicide. It fucking isn’t.

I worry about any teenager who reads this book, and I’d set this on fire if I didn’t read it on my kindle.

gabrielle_sig

PS: If I have said anything hurtful, or inaccurate about depression or suicide, please tell me. I understand that my experiences, and those of my friends, do not make me an expert on the matter. Mileages vary.

If I’ve hurt anyone, it was unconsciously done, and absolutely unintended. 

7 thoughts on “THIRTEEN REASONS WHY – JAY ASHER

  1. Ruzaika @ The Regal Critiques says:

    I don’t know how to put this into words in a better way, which is why I’m sharing this: https://bookidote.com/2017/04/28/13-reasons-why-tv-show-controversies-cinedote/amp/ Everyone experiences mental health issues differently. You can’t just say Hannah didn’t suffer from depression just because the word itself was not used in the narrative- that’s the point. No one noticed it. No one knew about it. And that’s just how it is in real life, isn’t it? There are times when you maybe feeling depressed- suicidal even- and not a single person around you may see anything of that sort judging from that smile plastered on your face. It happens. You may have experienced depression in a certain way- but that may not necessarily be how I experienced it, or Hannah for that matter. What Hannah did was wrong, very wrong, and I cannot stress upon this enough, but saying she didn’t experience depression the way you expected her to is harmful in itself. People actually do commit suicide because of many reasons adding up to it and they come to a point where they just can’t anymore. That final thing that just does it for you is what we call the trigger and that’s what happened when Mr Porter let Hannah down.
    Psychological resilience is a thing and different people have different thresholds. I get what you say about this being harmful, but I strongly disagree about the mental health aspect of it. I’m still learning, and I’m no expert, but depression? That’s unique to each individual. No experience is the same. The reason Hannah didn’t do anything about the rape? She couldn’t. Trust me when I say there are points when you see something very wrong but you don’t do anything about it because you.just.can’t. It happens.
    Tldr; everyone experiences mental health issues differently.
    Great review though- hope it was cathartic 😛

    Like

    • Gabrielle says:

      TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR THIS REPLY!

      I hope all of this makes sense.

      1) Okay. Yes. Perhaps I was wrong to say that she didn’t suffer from depression. Every one of experiences with the disease, both first and second-hand, have been largely on the more serious spectrum of things. And that could be clouding my judgement. I said it myself – mileage varies. Everyone DOES experience it differently. I apologize.

      But here’s the thing. As a book that advocates for mental illness, it kinda is important that it’s mentioned. The events of this book, as we experience them, are not taking place in real time, yes? Hannah Baker has already committed suicide. Clay Jensen and the other Reasons are now re-living her journey up to her death. In this case, Hannah has the full opportunity to tell people she was depressed. And Clay isn’t completely clueless, is he? But neither of them ever come out and say it. I’m not saying that Hannah Baker 100% wasn’t depressed. (Now, at least. I did imply it earlier, but you’re right. I was wrong to say it.) The fact that people go through depression without a single person having a clue is not something I’m disputing. I haven’t disputed that in this entire review. In this moment, even with the allowance that Hannah was depressed, it’s still no excuse for it to never be mentioned.

      If we were watching these events unfold in real time, yeah, I could maybe forgive it. Or understand it, at the very least. But the events took place in the past. We’re essentially experiencing a rehashing of everything that went down. Because of the book’s premise, and the way Asher chose to write it, he had plenty of opportunity to bring up depression. The fact that it wasn’t mentioned is an alarming example of quasi-advocacy. Which is pretty much the point I was trying to make about the book being irresponsible.

      Again. I’m so sorry if I implied that my experiences with depression are the be all and end all of it. Wasn’t my intention, but I can see how

      2) As for the thing I said about reasons, I’m gonna remind you that I meant reasons in a rational, linear, able-to-go-home-and-make-a-chart-about-it sense. Of course people don’t commit suicide for no reason. That’s not what I was saying. I was saying it’s not as systematic and specific – hence what I said about it being a revenge suicide. For Hannah to go home one night and write down a list of everything that hurt her, and to then link everything she could, while ommiting what she couldn’t? That is cold. That is detached and calculating – which depression often isn’t. Of course, you’re more qualified than I am to talk about this, I suppose. But from my experience, depression isn’t reasonable. As I said in my review, depression takes in every sadness and hoardes it. It gathers it up until its weight is crushing and the person can’t take anymore. It doesn’t allow for you to pick and choose when things don’t connect into a neat little plotline.

      3) I’m kinda iffy about your defense of the rape. I mean, she wasn’t hiding in the closet to begin with. She chose to go in there and hide when Bryce started entering the room. But okay. People make shitty decisions sometimes. I’m not denying that. Say I accepted that Hannah chose to let Jessica get raped and did nothing about it. It still doesn’t change the fact that she then went and, to quote Clay, “threw these tapes at her”. Worse than this being a problem with the character, it’s a problem with the writing. Because that quote I just used? It was the literal only kind of rebuke Hannah received in the narrative for her actions. This choice? To choose to refuse to take a moment to focus on Jessica made the rape nothing. Worse than trivializing the suicide, the rape wasn’t even worth talking about if it wasn’t in relation to Hannah. Even if I could forgive Hannah for her actions during the rape, I cannot forgive her for what she did after. And the book brushing over it tells you that you can. Please don’t defend this.

      I’d also like to add that I have the advantage of never having seen the show, so unlike people who have, I’m not crossing characterization and quotes. This is strictly a criticism of the book. Not trying to take away from the harmful things I said in my review. I’m just trying to be clear that this is a book-only review. The show, I will experience as a completely separate entity. The best I can, anyway.

      Anyway, TL;DR: I’m sorry I implied that people don’t experience depression differently. Of course they do. The implication was unconsciously done. That said, this book still sends damaging messages, and perpetuates misconceptions about suicide and depression.

      Like

  2. whatthelog says:

    I haven’t read or watched 13 Reasons and I’m not going to because I know I’ll be hella triggered. This was a really interesting review, and you eloquently put down some of my thoughts about the depiction of revenge suicide. I hate the idea that people could be encouraged by Hannah’s actions, and I wish that there could be suicide hotline links and phone numbers in both the book and the show. Though I do have to agree with the comment above about how depression is different for everyone – I realise that this is a badly written book, but surely the fact that the bad things are all she focuses on would be a symptom? I personally would say that this is a badly written representation of depression, rather than going to far as to say that she definitively does not have depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gabrielle says:

      Hi! Sorry this is late. I could have sworn I responded to this earlier. I agree with you and Ruzaika (the above commenter) I was wrong to say what I said. Depression IS different for everyone, and I shouldn’t have implied that it isn’t. I still stand by what I said when I mentioned that Asher should have and could have told the audience that Hannah was depressed – because it was irresponsible and problematic beyond all belief to not do it. His choice to not say it kind of ties in with my saying that Hannah wasn’t depressed. (Not that I’m trying to justify myself. I messed up. And I’m not correcting my review because I want to be held accountable.)

      But yes, my sentiments were along the lines of what you said. It was a badly written representation of depression. In my anger, I phrased it so so badly, and I am sorry for that.

      Like

  3. lry93 says:

    When I read this book way back when, I remember being irritated about the fact that Hannah was potentially sending 13 other people down the path to suicide like she went down. I thought the tapes and the idea behind the tapes were irresponsible – but like I said, I read this book years ago, And didn’t do a re read before actually watching the show. I do feel like the show was done better and I did enjoy it, despite it being problematic and others finding offence in it. I felt like the show represented all sides of the story more accurately and I think it helps outline the steps and the issues of objectification, sexual harassment, rape culture in general etc. And how it can stem from something as simple as a list… I hope you enjoy the show (if you really do decide to watch it) more than the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gabrielle says:

      I keep hearing that the show is better, but at the moment, I’m still a little too mad at the book to watch it. I’ll get around to it eventually. But maybe not right now. I’ll let you know my thoughts 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • lry93 says:

        I definitely found the show to be better, but I still think Hannas actions weren’t right … show or book. But I feel like the show is way more developed, to be honest! I hope you do enjoy it more than the book 😂😂

        Like

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