I’ve been picking it up (and putting it back down) on and off for nearly ten years, but since Thirteen Reasons Why premiered on Netflix last month, it gave me the push I needed to finally read Jay Asher’s best-selling novel.
Perhaps I’m too old to be reading it for the first time, or maybe I over-hyped it in my mind, but either way, I didn’t love Thirteen Reasons Why as much as I’d hoped.
The premise is fascinating: a few weeks after his classmate (and crush) Hannah commits suicide, Clay comes home to a set of cassette tapes from Hannah, each side calling out a person who somehow contributed to her decision to overdose. Clay isn’t sure what he could have done to drive Hannah to such drastic measures, and the more he listens to the tapes, the more his eyes are opened to the dark secrets of some of his other classmates.
Hannah also leaves a map marking certain places in their town, so, while he’s listening to the tapes, Clay wanders around, visiting landmarks that were somehow important to Hannah. The story is mostly told through Hannah’s tapes, with Clay’s reactions and explanations filling in the blanks.
I guess I understood Hannah’s actions (to a certain extent, because suicide is never the answer), but because she rewinds her story back by two years, there’s a lot of setup before she starts to hint at her eventual demise. I guess it’s a suspense novel, but I don’t have a whole lot of patience, so I mostly felt frustrated by the way she dragged out the reveals of each classmate’s identity.
My biggest problem, however, was Clay. He felt incredibly flat, and rather boring, and I couldn’t get a good grasp of his character. SPOILER ALERT (even though the book has been out for a decade): Clay is the only person mentioned on the tapes who didn’t negatively affect Hannah. In fact, he had a spotless reputation (unlike Hannah’s, a result of sordid rumours that were spread about her) and she had a thing for him, but he’s mostly blameless. And that kinda annoyed me – I’d have preferred if he’d had some sort of dark secret only she had uncovered, otherwise he has nothing at stake if these tapes are released to the rest of the school. Plus she makes him feel hella guilty. And drags other people's reputations through the dirt...exactly like how they made her feel.
Everyone I know binged and raved about the show, but I could only force myself to watch the first and last episodes. It wasn't as riveting as I thought it would be, and I didn't really like the characters (not in the book, and certainly not in the show). Basically, any issues I had with the book were magnified in the show because there was no room for interpretation. And don't even get me started on the suicide scene. Long story short, I was not into it.