Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Th1rtheen R3asons Why

I started out writing a fairly positive review for this book. For a first book by an author, it was an outstanding effort. It is a very compelling story and I looked forward to hearing the tale play out during my occasional jaunts in the car. I felt that the writing was engaging and the characters realistic. I also think the author did an incredible job of conjuring up solid voices for his two main characters.

On the back cover of the audio version, it states that Asher got the idea for this book while taking an audio tour of a museum. It says he was "struck by the eeriness of the voice in his ear." He has certainly duplicated that experience and the audio version of this book successfully presented the sorrowful voice of a troubled girl.

Clay Jensen discovers an unusual package on his doorstep. It contains seven audio tapes, made by a high school classmate who has recently committed suicide. Throughout the thirteen sides of these tapes, Hannah Baker outlines the people and situations that led her to take this tragic step. She explains that she expects each of them to pass the tapes on to the next involved individual or the tapes will go public. Of course, Clay, a genuinely good kid, is anxious to hear why he has appeared on the tapes.

The story is, indeed, compelling. However, despite being sure his books will appeal to modern young adult readers, I myself had quite a few criticisms. I understand that authors attempt to keep things realistic, but I'm uncomfortable with the frequency of bad language and some parts were too graphic for my tastes. I don't know that I would recommend this to my son because I wouldn't really want him revelling in these tales of wanton behavior. There were moments when I was glad his ear-buds were deeply nestled in his ears, while I drove him here and there, so he wouldn't hear what I was listening to.

The book made me uncomfortable. I'm sure it was realistic (full of the types of situations modern teenagers find themselves in), but I didn't enjoy listening to the behaviors and antics of these teens. Plus, it was troubling to listen to the finger-pointing after a suicide. The events leading up to the suicide didn't really seem significant enough to push an individual to take their life - however, I do think teenagers tend to see things in starker emotional terms than adults might.

I also felt the shift to a hopeful perspective occurred too quickly at the end. It didn't really provide the level of redemption I would have liked. Still, I believe modern teenagers will appreciate the pace and development of this story and will relate far more readily to the less than wholesome aspects which troubled me. So my review is mixed. While it definitely bothered me, the story treats a realistic problem with realistic characters.


Amy Sorensen said...

I enjoyed this one but I think it was because I found myself in the pages. And...sometimes I think it *IS* hard to separate our adult reaction to a teenage book from the way a teenager might respond. But I also finished reading it and felt like...gah. Where's the personal responsibility? It was everyone else's fault that she died except for hers, you know? And while I think it is designed to make teens think about the results of their decisions and actions, it was sort of ironic to me that the girl who committed suicide never did that.

Wendy said...

Yes, Amy, that's exactly what I was thinking about the pointing fingers bit getting to me. I kept wondering how all of it could be pushed off on everyone else and when does it become an individual's responsibility to buck up and choose to ignore rumors, bad situations, etc. Having a brother-in-law who committed suicide, I believe there's often a disconnect where the individual chooses not to take responsibility for changing what is making them distraught. However, having been so low that this tempted me, I would also say that the detach can be involuntary, if associated with depression. Does that make any sense? It's late ... perhaps I should just get to bed.