Quick Synopsis: Clay Jenson returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s recordings explain the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide.
I read this book back in April and have since been debating how I would express my opinion on it. That is why it has taken a while for this post to be published, not due to the fact that I was in a massive writing/reading slump, but because I was compiling my thoughts.
The book centres on quite a serious topic, suicide, a subject matter in literature which I have purposely avoided up until now. It is a complicated matter to discuss, therefore I felt it necessary for me to sit on this book for awhile after reading it, allow myself time to process everything and ensure I could develop a true opinion. I will state that this book should not be read if you are sensitive to the subject at hand, you shouldn’t pick this up for a light, simple read, as it is not a jolly story – as indicated from the synopsis. That said, how much you are affected by this book or pulled into the story is up to you, up to how you picture every scene, how you read between the lines and witness through the eyes of both narrators, and whether you can relate. I will not be saying whether the representation is accurate or not because it is not my place to say, my review will focus on the novel itself and less on the subject matter.
Now the massive disclaimer is out of the way, let’s begin the real review.
Similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this novel is an epistolary, written in a chronological episodic format of cassette tapes – a new side to the cassette indicates a more recent event that contributed to the reasons why. This format, especially worked due to each tape side revolving around a different character and setting, Hannah would discuss that individual and how they drove her to her final decision, then the tape would switch sides and Hannah would reveal another name and what that person did. Moreover, the novel mainly comprised of Clay’s first person perspective as he supplied his reaction and opinions on what he heard on the tapes. Whereas, Hannah’s perspective was conveyed through the tape recordings which were indicated by the italicised text. This created a seamless multi-strand narrative that I found fluent, I felt as if I was physically in Clay’s shoes listening to the recordings. I found that, while reading Hannah’s italicised speech, I could almost hear the tone in her voice, the anger, tiredness, even a mischievous tone at one point. And you are actually able to listen to the recordings over on YouTube, however, I suggest finding out how you interpret Hannah’s speech before listening to the recordings online.
Unfortunately, the character of Clay felt like just a rope between the reader and Hannah’s perspective, in the sense that he was generic and bland. Yes, we witness his response to Hannah’s recordings, the feelings this experience generates and how he “changes” as an individual, but it is done in such a way that it’s obvious that the author came up with the episodic idea first, then shoehorned in a generic character for the reader to relate to so that we had that connection and reason to hear the recordings. On the other hand, Hannah as a character was fine, – again nothing too special – she felt more like a secondary character when the story should have primarily revolved around her, instead the majority of the time was spent in Clay’s head. Which would not have been a bad thing had he been a more unique character – I certainly would have liked him to have developed more as an individual throughout the novel, sadly this did not happen. Plus, it would have been nice to see more of a present day showing of the other people mentioned in the tapes, to see more of a contrast between those who had already heard them and those who were yet to hear them.
Additionally, the descriptive language leaves much to be desired. Now, I understand that authors are there to lay the basis for our imaginations to run wild, however, I at least like to have a bit of description about the settings, maybe a mention or two about the colours that are most prominent, some imagery that would help create an atmosphere for that setting such as the smell or the sounds, but there was nothing like that. The settings were clearly supposed to have some significance to the plot, otherwise why would Hannah supply Clay with a map of the town to follow as he listened to the tapes? As a result of this though, the settings felt bland and insignificant when they were meant to be a key factor in Hannah’s decision. I found for the majority of the time I had to use my own supply of “basic American settings” to picture the events against a backdrop.
Furthermore, the ending only showed slight improvement in Clay’s behaviour as he displayed a clear desire to stop history from repeating itself. I left the novel in a state of relief/contemplation, it definitely made me think about how the little things matter, not just the positive little things, but also the seemingly insignificant negative things that can build up and clutter a person’s mind.
Despite the above, I will say that there is a pleasant poem in the novel, which I posted here back in April. I take my hat off to Jay for deciding to tackle such a complicated subject, sadly I would not say he won on this account. Overall, I would give this book a 3-3.5/5 stars, I love how fluid the change in perspective is and how you could really sense Hannah’s tone of voice, however, the novel lacks in the description department and the characters are not developed well enough.
Thank you for reading this review. Go check out the book for yourself and share your opinions down below.