Thirteen Reasons Why is possibly the worst book I’ve ever read. The concept is compelling: a woman commits suicide and leaves behind a shoebox full of audio tapes to explain the “thirteen reasons” why she did it. She explains that each person on “the list” had some part in pushing her over the edge.
Only, I did’t know when I purchased it… the book is “young adult fiction” so the “woman” is a “girl” and her reasons are—for the most part—completely trivial.
The book, and it’s author, taps into the adolescent angst that crosses the mind of most 12-14 year olds at some point, the “boy would they all be sorry if I wasn’t around” cadre of emotion. However, in a perverse way, the book, in so doing, seems to advocate for suicide.
Then there’s the inverse catch-22. The theme of the book is simple: all the seemingly insignificant, little things that you “do” to someone, add up to a much more significant compilation of transgressions magnified by the hidden things that we don’t know about. Therefore, the moral of the story is even more simple: be nice to people.
Which, oddly, is exactly what the protagonist—named Hannah—isn’t doing. By leaving incriminating and downright mean tapes after her death she isn’t telling a story, she’s simply spreading the malaise and ill will that her alleged perpetrators subjected her to.
Even more disturbingly is the voicelessness of the protagonist. The book seems to advocate against empowering young girls/young in any manner. One of the “offenders” early on in the book gropes Hannah. She quietly takes the abuse and doesn’t report it, doesn’t speak out against it, and doesn’t seek any kind of remedy. This isn’t a positive message to send to any young person, and isn’t the way the “real world” works. Instead, Hannah simply accepts this fate, and adds it to the long—long—laundry list of offenses that occur in rapid succession. She never, ever, seeks help, confides in anyone, or reports any of the occurrences. Later in the book, Hannah cuts her hair in a desperate cry for help, which makes absolutely no sense. The message sent by the author is that Hannah is so perfect and important that everyone should have noticed that she cut her hair and that she was somehow broadcasting a warning sign of impending suicide. When no one notices, the next thing we know, this seemingly mysterious box of tapes arrives and Hannah is dead.
This book seems so cleverly conceived and so horribly executed that I can’t help but mourn the loss of the writer’s creative imagination more than the protagonist in the book.
Definitely not at all worth the read, and I would actively avoid letting it fall into the hands of any young or impressionable folks.