BOOK REVIEW: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
By: Jay Asher
Publication Date: 27 December 2016
Format: Ebook, 344 pages

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. (Goodreads)

I must admit that I’d heard of the Netflix serialization of this book before I chose to read it, wanting to experience Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher before watching the adaptation.

The book grabbed me from the off, opening with Clay Jensen receiving a box of seven cassette tapes in the post with no indication of the sender. After finding a cassette player and inserting the first tape, Clay hears the voice of Hannah Baker, a girl he thought he’d never hear from again following her tragic suicide only a few weeks before. As her voice emerges from the tape she promises to reveal her thirteen reasons why she committed suicide, hence the thirteen sides of tape and thirteen people to pass the tapes on to. If the tapes are not passed on as she intended, then a third party will release them publicly and all their secrets will be out in the open.

At this point we don’t know which tape Clay will find himself on, only that his time will come and that Hannah somehow found him to blame for her death. It is up to Clay to listen closely and hear Hannah’s story, which may well change his perspective of several of his college classmates, and see how the simplest of rumours can escalate and turn into something much bigger. Alongside this, a map had been shoved into his locker highlighting certain locations that crop up during the narrative, with Clay following in Hannah’s footsteps as she spills her feelings for the tape.

Hannah promises to reveal all, not leaving anything out and telling several secrets that those around her would rather stay buried. She was the victim of abuse, having just moved to a new town and earning the wrong reputation whilst trying to make new friends. At times her story is difficult to hear, especially for Clay who has his own regrets about things he didn’t do or say before it was too late. These tapes give him a renewed chance to really get to know her, but does he really want to know everything Hannah was capable of or what she went through?

Cleverly taking place in the time span of just one night, Clay becomes immersed in the tapes and compelled to listen to Hannah’s every word. That said, the plot never feels rushed and events occur according to a precise timeline as everything slots into place. This is complemented by the narrative style, which alternates Hannah’s words with Clay’s feelings and reactions to them. There is very little third party involvement, with this seeming like Hannah is talking directly to the reader and enabling us to feel every ounce of Clay’s pain at her words.

The way the plot is set up, there is always a doubt in the back of your mind about Clay – could he be the last tape and have committed the worst offence? All the way through I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case, as he is a likeable, if socially aloof, character that up until now has kept himself to himself. He is trying to survive high school by staying under the radar, finding it easier to stay quiet sometimes than to do what was right, making these tapes even harder for him to hear as he contemplates everything he should have done.

Hannah makes it clear on the tapes just who or what she finds responsible for her last weeks alive, but all we get as a reader is her one sided tale, with no opportunity for anyone other than Clay to respond. Is everything that happened to Hannah the truth? There are times when we hear a more vindictive side to her that implies she is out for revenge, not just to share her story, meaning that there may be times when you doubt her perspective, especially as Clay doesn’t know the full truth either. These doubts are part of what makes the book so engaging, as you become as desperate as Clay is to reach the final tape.

I would highly recommend this book and, as I have seen some of the TV series, I’d recommend reading this first so you have something to compare it to. The book was one of the first in a long time to grab me and I loved it, with it definitely being a book to save you from a reading slump. The characters are intriguing and you can identify with them all on some level when you look back to your own high school days, with the plot being plausible and making you question what goes on behind closed doors.

A fantastic novel that goes so far beyond the young adult genre, this book will make you think about your life and how your actions affect those around you. The smallest of gestures can make a big difference, and this book serves to emphasise the difficulty of fitting in at a young age. I was gripped from the very beginning, and I’m sure you will be too.





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