Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Book Club Follow-Up

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a book that was impossible to miss when it first made the blog rounds. In fact, I actually accepted advertising for the book on this blog! It was impossible to miss this book because the premise was so chilling and yet so relevant to the lives of teenagers.

Thirteen Reasons Why is about Clay, and how one day he comes home and finds a box full of tapes. Surprised to discover this ancient form of technology (which by the way I use daily in my job. ;) he's curious about what it is. He's shocked to discover that the tapes were made by Hannah Baker, a girl in his class who killed herself not long ago. As he listens, he learns that these tapes were made for the people who Hannah considers responsible for driving her to give up on life...as a means to explain why she did it.

This book is absolutely riveting. The book is told with both Hannah and Clay narrating..essentially, we hear Hannah's voice on the tape, and then Clay's reaction. And poor Clay! He seems like such a nice kid, who had a genuine interest in Hannah. And yet, he has to listen to these tapes to discover why he's on them...what role he played in Hannah's decision.

Hannah's story slowly unfolds and it isn't pretty. Some of the things are hard to read and will be harder for the reader who has experience with them. And this poor girl certainly does get slammed. Yet at the same time that I grieved for Hannah, I grieved for every troubled teenager featured on the tape who would feel responsible for Hannah.

There are aspects of this story that stretch the boundaries of believability. For example, it seems there isn't one ounce of parental responsibility in this town. You will read this and wonder where all the parents are. There are decisions Hannah makes that seem extreme. There were times I wondered how she could be composed enough to pinpoint why she wanted to kill herself and not get the necessary help. Yet at the same time, this book powerfully brings home the truth that the way you treat people matters.

Here is one of my favorite passages that sort of sums up the theme of the book:

"You don't know what goes on in anyone's life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person's life, you're not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can't be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person's life, you mess with their whole life. Everything....affects everything."

This is not an easy read, but I think it would be a great book to read with your teen, in order to open up the lines of communication. While you know how Hannah's story ends, the book does not end on a hopeless note.

Rating: 4/5
Things You Might Want to Know: there's some sexuality

My New Book Club

For all of my life, I have longed to be in a book club. The closest I ever came was shortly after college when a few friends and I met weekly to discuss Christian non-fiction, such as Mere Christianity and St. Augustine's Confessions. Apparently, this longing was shared by other avid readers and bloggers and one day on Twitter we decided to start our own online book club. Due the complications involved with the technology we use for our book club, we're pretty maxed out on membership, but if you are looking for a book club, I highly recommend giving this a try!

Thirteen Reasons Why was the first book chosen by our book club. What an excellent book club pick this book is! There is much to discuss and there was quite an array of opinions! Some club members had absolutely no sympathy for Hannah. Several of us agreed that we couldn't understand where the parents were and why there was so little adult involvement in the teenagers lives.

It's interesting to talk about suicide because inevitably there will be those who think that suicide is selfish. And while to a rationally minded person this is true, it's impossible to understand the extreme pain a person must be in to sink this low. It was clear that Hannah lacked support and we all know you can't get through this life without the support of others. Could she have reached out more for it? Probably. But she didn't.

We did agree that the book should have included a more comprehensive list of signs someone is contemplating taking their own life. While these things were touched upon in the story, they weren't fully fleshed out. It also seemed to be the general consensus that nothing Hannah suffered was impossible to overcome. She helped make the way to her own destruction.

If you have a book club, I highly recommend Thirteen Reasons Why as a great pick for discusson!

So...since so many of you have read this...what did you think?



Molly said...

I had this book in my hands to purchase yesterday - but at the last minute decided to save my money (now I wish I had bought it). I know I need to read the book because I have heard nothing but glowing reviews.

I, too, have always wanted to join a book club. I even tried to organize one last year, but to no avail (I think people lead such busy lives that they just cannot commit to one more thing). Perhaps I should investigate the 21st century book club format :)

Thanks for sharing!

lilly said...

I have seen this book reviewed on several blogs. It is impossible to miss. Suicide is such a difficult subject, especially to healthy people who do not understand how someone could take their own lives. I have a feeling I will love this book.

Meghan said...

It was definitely weird that there weren't any parents taking control of their kids. Even Clay's mom lets him walk all over town late at night. I know my parents wouldn't have let me do that by myself.

Tricia said...

I hadn't thought about this book in conjunction with a book club. What a good idea!

Jennsbookshelf said...

This is one of my books to read during the Read-a-thon. It sounds like an amazing book.

Julie P. said...

I thought this was a fabulous book and I appreciate your "run down" of the meeting!

Beth F said...

Great summary of the meeting. The book is perfect for discussion because it highlights a number of issues, which generates a variety of opinions. Hearing other people's thoughts was amazingly insightful.

bermudaonion said...

Great re-cap, Amy!

Heather J. said...

Congrats on the new book club! I'm sure you're going to enjoy it. :)

S. Krishna said...

Ha, you're the first to actually DO a recap/summary though we all talked about it! I need to sit down and do one. You did a great job, so I might base mine on yours!

J.S. Peyton said...

I've never heard of this book until just now, but it certainly generates an interesting discussion on the nature of suicide and why people do it. I agree that ultimately suicide is selfish, but I also think that the pain and depression someone must feel to even contemplate suicide is hard for someone who's never felt that to understand.

Ramya said...

I read this book last year and I really enjoyed it.. and it affected in a much more deeper way because one of my closest friends committed suicide earlier last year and I was trying to come to terms with it.. This book helped me deal with my loss and taught me that many little seeemingly harmless incidents, when put together, can have pretty damaging results.

Nely said...

I SO want to read this! Great review - I'm buying it.

Jenners said...

I have seen this book mentioned on several blogs and each time I've been intrigued. I think your review gave the most comprehensive look at the book though. And it does sound like a great book for discussion. Wonderful job on this!

samantha.1020 said...

I have yet to read this book so I skimmed your review but I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. And what a neat thing to have been able to discuss this book with your new book club. I can't wait to hear what else you guys read about and discuss ;)

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I loved this book! I recommend it to everyone!

Nymeth said...

I know I keep commenting with "What J.S. Peyton said!", but what can I do when she keeps taking the words out of my mouth :P

Except that I had heard of it before, and thanks to reviews like yours I really want to read it.

Elizabeth said...

I just finished it - wow. It was so heartbreaking. Hard to put down!

Anonymous said...

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