Around mid-May, I went on a reading binge. I hadn’t been reading any YA fiction by choice for months, and so the first free day I had, I read one novel and six novellas. My sprinting pace of reading abruptly came to stop when I reached Requiem by Lauren Oliver, but the 24th of May was a black hole of endless reading, consuming as much fiction as I could get my hands on.
The first book that started this all was Thirteen Reasons Why. It makes me wish that I’d read thirteen books on that day, for a more symbolic resolution but alas, was not to be. (Wow, did I really just use alas? Oh dear lord, what is happening to me…?)
The ONE reason why I picked this book up was it’s absolutely MASSIVE hype. Everyone praises this book as eye-opening and life-changing and thought-provoking, so I went in with skyscraper-high expectations. Expectations that very few books would be able to meet, and that did not bode well.
Hannah Baker’s last, vengeful act before committing suicide is to leave a series of hateful tapes to the thirteen people who drove her to kill herself (well, that’s technically not true, but that’s a bit of a spoiler, so we’ll leave it there).
Clay is one of the thirteen on the list, and receives the tapes, listens to them all, and reminisces. And not much else happens, which explains why this book is mega short.
The Writing Style
The narrative is interspliced between Hannah’s commentary, and Clay’s commentary on her commentary. However, it read very awkwardly. Hannah’s is one-sided dialogue to whoever she’s talking to, which makes the blunt and direct style very realistic, however Clay, who’s commenting, in his head, about her commentary, feels very out of place. It’s like someone is listening to two songs at the same time by alternating between them, a few lines at the time. Sometimes Clay would narrate to us some parts of the story that seemed completely unconnected but tied together in the end, and other times he would be reacting directly to whatever Hannah said. The problem is, Clay’s narration had the exact same tone as Hannah’s, a direct I’m-telling-this-to-someone-else kind of voice, which felt very opposing to Hannah’s conversation.
Clay’s direct reactions could have been taken out of. I knew we had to see the way he felt about these things, but I felt that a lot of the reactions were unnecessary, as we were being told everything instead of being shown anything. Plus, this very direct writing style felt incredibly juvenile and unpolished. It made it a very fast read, definitely, but it just wasn’t to my tastes.
There felt to be a very preachy, overbearing author presence in Hannah’s narrative. It felt more like a self-help book for kids explaining why you shouldn’t be mean to people, and a lot of her narrative was so cold and factual, explaining all the details of what people did wrong, that it took me out of the story. It’s a very good message, and should be preached, but it was done in the wrong way in this book. It was not subtle at all, and was told far too directly.
Because of the extremely short time space, there was no time for any character development at all. Throughout the book, Hannah’s narrative is when she is on the edge, angry and hateful and vengeful and accusative, but we never really get much of a look at how she was before. This makes her quite a one-dimensional character, because there’s really no chance to develop her. Clay spends far too much time telling us flashbacks, instead of showing us flashbacks, which I would have preferred.
And now here come the SPOILERS.
SCROLL DOWN TO AVOID THE SPOILERS.
Clay’s tape was like a complete letdown. I was getting very excited for Clay’s tape, as he kept portraying himself as this completely nice and perfectly lovely guy. I wanted to see this hidden dark side of himself that even he didn’t know about. I wanted him to find out this one dark and horrible deed that drove the girl he loved over the brink, and sit back and try to re-evaluate his own life, everything he knew about himself, and either carry on, or embrace his negativity.
Instead, it turns out, he’s the exception. He’s just there because she wanted him to hear the story. Goodbye, potential character development, hello, one-dimensional character with no meaning.
AND I HAVE NOW VANQUISHED THE SPOILERS. VANISHUS SPOILERSUS. HUZZAH. YER A WIZARD, HUMBLE BOOK REVIEWER.
I’m not saying that short books are bad, on the contrary, I read six novellas that day, remember? I think stories should always be as long as they need to be, and this book suffered from missing a good 50-100 pages of something else. Possibly more.
I needed flashbacks. I needed scenes of Clay not listening to the tapes. I understand that the tapes consumed him, and that he needed to obsessively listen to them, but some insight on what he was like when he wasn’t listening to them would have made some nice character development. Or flashbacks to their lives, because I barely know anything about these characters. And in a book like this, which kind of relies on it’s characters, it’s important that we come to care for them more than we want to.
It certainly never let me get bored. It’s the type of book that somehow sucks you in with it’s ease to read, and it’s simple yet interesting premise. And I had a very satisfied feeling after reading the book, the type you get after investing so much of your time into one thing so addictively. When bad things happened to Hannah, they made me feel sad, but more because they were horrible, not because I cared for her anymore than I would any other character. God this is turning back into a Con.
It’s good I promise!
It wasn’t Bad
It really wasn’t, I just expected far too much from it. I’m sure if you went into it open-minded, you would really enjoy it, as I did, though not as much as I should have.
- “A lot of you cared, just not enough.”
- “But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”
- “You can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have is…now.”
- “I sat. And I thought. And the more I thought, connecting the events in my life, the more my heart collapsed.”
It wasn’t bad, no, it really wasn’t. But somehow, though I’ve never read any other books in this specific genre, it felt cliché. It felt like the bare bones of what a book about suicide needed to achieve. It relied to heavily on the initial reader reaction of anyone committing suicide, and hoped that would illicit emotion instead of a connection to these characters. The book was too short and the writing style needs to mature.
I would say that the author just needs some time to develop his style and characterisation, as the entire novel just doesn’t seem… finished. It reads like a draft rather than a novel. I would say that Jay Asher’s later novel is probably a lot better, but I don’t know, I’ve never read it, I’m just speculating.
So… rating? Um… 3 1/2 shuriken stars seems about right.