The other day I walked into our apartment living room and my husband was posted up on the couch watching a show I didn’t recognize. I asked him what he was watching and he said 13 Reasons Why.
He asked me if I wanted to watch and I very quickly responded no. He was surprised by my quick response and asked me why not. The short reason is I read the book and I did not like it. At all. But if you know me then you know I don’t usually stick to the short reason. So lets talk about the long reason shall we?
Note: this post is not meant to offend or hurt anyone. This is just my thoughts after reading the book. Suicide is an extremely serious thing, and it should be treated that way at all times in my opinion.
Another Note: By discussing this book/show I’ll be giving away some spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or finished the TV series and plan to do either you may not want to read this post.
I heard so many rave reviews about this book. Several people told me it was one of the best books they’ve ever read, or that it’s a book they still think about even after reading it several years ago. I finally got my hands on it back in 2015, and I read it in one day, in probably only two sittings. It starts off intense and mysterious and doesn’t stop until the end. That being said, once I finally caught my breath from finishing this book, it left a really bad taste in my mouth. Now that it has been 2 years since I’ve read it I can say for a fact: I hate this book. In fact, I wrote about what a huge letdown it was for me.
I honestly never thought this book would ever come up again, but late last year I heard Netflix was going to be releasing a TV adaptation of the book. The show has been a huge hit and was just renewed for a second season.
If you’re not familiar with the plot of the book, let me set the stage. The young adult book begins with one of the story’s two narrators, Clay, mailing a package to a girl named Jenny. Soon we learn the package contains the cassette tapes (the book was written in 2007) of the audio-taped suicide note of our second narrator, Hannah Baker.
The package contains 7 cassette tapes and 13 stories. Hannah uses each of the tapes to let each person know how and why they are in someway responsible for her suicide. After listening to their instructed tape, each person is to give the tapes to the next person on Hannah’s list. The tapes also come with a map that listeners are meant to physically follow as they listen to her story.
Writing for teens about teen suicide is an extremely hard thing to do, but I’ve read some YA books that have done a fantastic job of it (Hate List and My Heart and Other Black Holes were both spectacular in my opinion). This book not only focuses on a successful suicide, but I felt it glamorized suicide in a way that I believe is never acceptable, let alone acceptable to a young teen.
I am 10 years removed from the age Hannah is in the book. My world as a 15 year old is completely night and day different then it is now as a 25 year old. My worries, my decisions, my thoughts, everything was different then. At 15, life was about nothing but cute boys, basketball practice, and trying to get out of doing chores on the weekend. I can’t even count the number of times I was positive “my life was ruined” over my parents embarrassing me, or my outfit not being perfect one day at school. AND this was before cell phones, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter hit the scene! Social media and the instantness of our culture only exacerbates this for teens now days.
Some of the things Hannah went through were no doubt absolutely horrible (being raped and then going to your school counselor to admit you were having suicidal thoughts only to be ignored are both unimaginable things). But there are millions of kids in this world that have gone through things just as horrible (or maybe even more horrible) then what Hannah went through.
Does that mean they should be considering suicide because this girl in this book who is in the same situation as them thought suicide was the only answer?
Not only did she think suicide was the only answer, she proved it was the only answer because she was successful in her attempt. And not only was she successful in her attempt, but her carefully and meticulously planned posthumous rant gives her almost a celebrity type status amongst her peers.
Suddenly, Hannah has everyone’s attention, and she has it because she’s successfully committed suicide and set each person who “wronged” her on a wild goose chase so they can feel the guilt of her decision to end her life.
I’m not saying those people were jerks or that she wasn’t treated badly, but suicide is 100% preventable. And I believe it is 100% an inside decision. Hannah chose to end her life because at the time she couldn’t see a way out, and she couldn’t see how she could persevere through all that she had been through.
But these are the exact things we need to be teaching kids. That there is always a way out, and that no matter what you’ve been through, you can and you will persevere. You may have to do it by yourself, but you will come out on the other side and you will be a stronger person.
If I had read this book as a dramatic, one-track minded 14-year old and thought suicide would get me the attention I wanted, OR had I received tapes like this when I was a teenager, I can only imagine the amount of damage it would have done to me, and how it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.
Honestly, I hated this book. There is not much about it I think is good. I think it sends the complete wrong message to teens about suicide, and about how to cope with horrible things when they happen.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids ages 15-19. This is huge and it’s a obviously a problem. Over the course of our lives we will encounter hundreds thousands of different people. Some we may have a huge impact on and some may not even remember us. It is impossible to know everyones story, and each person on the planet is facing some sort a challenge we know nothing about.
The book ends with Clay reaching out to another girl he believes is going through a tough time. Obviously Clay has learned how much of a difference one person’s actions can have. This is hugely important and the one good take away I got from this book.
Being kind to one another, whether they’re a stranger or a loved one, should never be taken for granted. In a culture where we chase validation through likes, shares, and followers, we need to not forget how much of an impact a kind word or gesture can really have.
If you’re looking for a fiction Young Adult book on teen suicide I highly recommend:
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
Hate List by Jennifer Brown