I made the mistake of letting myself fall very behind in my book reviews, but I am finally starting to catch back up again. Today I flash back to a book I read in early March called Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007).

Thirteen Reasons Why cover

Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker through an unwitting narrator, our protagonist: Clay Jensen. Clay arrives home from school one afternoon to find a shoe-box containing seven cassette tapes outside his front door. He discovers that these tapes were recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has passed away. The story follows Clay around his small town as he listens through these tapes, learning things about Hannah – and himself – that will change his life forever.

The story had a solid start. I remember being taught in my creative writing classes at university to always start a story with a hook – a question or a statement that would compel the reader to keep on reading – and Asher absolutely nailed it. In only four pages he raised a number of very important questions that I just had to find out the answers to. These include, among others:

–          Who sent the package?

–          Who is Jenny?

–          Who, exactly, is Hannah and what happened to her?

–          What is on the tapes?

–          What is the list? Who else is on it?

From the next chapter these questions start being answered, but at the same time more are being raised. Asher took that initial hook of raising questions that you just have to find out the answers to, and continued it throughout the story. This resulted in an entire novel that is a constant stream of questions and answers that doesn’t conclude until the very last page. I think this played a huge part it what makes the book so addictive.

The whole concept of the book – the story itself, as well as how it has been set out and told – is quite brilliant. Even though it features incredibly heavy content to read and absorb, you feel compelled to keep going. You absolutely have to know what and who comes next, and how that person contributed to what happened. From person to person the suspense builds as you come closer and closer to seeing where Clay fits into Hannah’s story.

Throughout Thirteen Reasons Why I found myself feeling more and more for Clay as the story went along. He gets to be so emotional and he feels so horrible even before he finds out where he fits into Hannah’s story. I can understand that his experience would have been one hell of an emotional roller-coaster ride and the way Asher wrote Clay; the way the character internalises everything and doesn’t hold anything back; really makes you feel what he is feeling. Even though it is truly painful to read at times, I don’t think you would want it any other way.

I won’t say too much about Hannah, because I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read Thirteen Reasons Why, but I was fascinated by her story. What happened was awful and it really should never have come to that, but the way she goes through the stories of everyone who impacted her in some way, right down to the end where she is so at peace with it all and completely rationalises her decision, was a very interesting read. I said it once already, but this novel is truly a brilliant piece of writing.

From a technical standpoint, the story does jump around a little bit in a few places. It’s something that I noticed, but it doesn’t affect the story too much. I also didn’t particularly like the ending, but I do understand why it ended the way it did. I’m sure every reader has their own opinion on that!

 

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