Happy Sunday. I hope you’re having a restful weekend. It’s been a funny one for me. I’ve done lots of reading because I feel utterly exhausted. It’s the last English exam tomorrow so this is probably why. Anyway, it meant that I got to finish reading 13 Reasons Why. Blimey, what a cracking little book this is! It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read in 2017 so far.
What’s it all about?
The novel evolves around two characters: Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen. Now I have to say Clay is a rather shy, mild character in high school. I actually quite liked him as a character and there were times when my heart broke for him. Anyway, Clay comes home from school to find he has received a mystery package in the mail, with no return address. Inside the package was 7 double sided cassette tapes used by Hannah to explain why she committed suicide. Each tape details a reason why. The novel follows Clay’s listening of the tapes (on a stolen player from his friend Tony) and him walking around the town to visit various places mentioned.
The first to receive the tapes was Justin. They shared a kiss once after Hannah developed a crush on him. However, it wasn’t long until she remembered she liked someone else. Yet, Justin bragged to his friends that it was more than a kiss, earning Hannah an unwarranted reputation as some kind of slut. It was Justin who started the journey to Hannah’s death.
“I’d like to not be the thing people dig their hands in anymore.”
The second person was Alex. Alex foolishly published a ‘hot or not’ list, comparing the girls in their class. He credited Hannah with the title of ‘Best Ass’, adding fuel to the fire about her reputation currently flying around school. At the same time, he awarded Jessica, his ex girlfriend the title of ‘Worst Ass’ in revenge for her not sleeping with him. Needless to say, Alex’s character enraged me. Little shit.
Next up: Jessica herself. After the list, this friendship became rather strained. Jessica got angry and slapped Hannah. It was this altercation that ended their friendship. Also the consequence of the slap was a scar above Hannah’s left eye brow. Clay noticed…
The tapes were then sent to Tyler, another classmate. He worked as the photographer for the yearbook. But it wasn’t just photos for the yearbook he took. Hannah knew he was stalking her and taking photos of her through her bedroom window. Hannah asked Courtney for help in catching Tyler in the act. Tyler took a picture of Hannah and Courtney kissing in Hannah’s bedroom. The photo got published, leading us nicely to the next receiver of the tapes.
Courtney was the fifth person. Hannah was desperate for Courtney to be her friend. Yet the picture Tyler had published created more rumours, this time about Courtney’s sexuality. In a vain attempt to save herself from embarrassment, Courtney added to the rumours about Hannah. That snowball of events is just getting bigger…
“Some of you care. None of you cared enough.”
Marcus was next and again I have to say he is another male character I did not like. Nevertheless, his role is rather small yet still important. He decided to believe the rumours about Hannah and made a pass at her. He clearly believed she was easy and up for a good time. Obviously he was rather surprised when Hannah knocked him back.
Zack tried to comfort Hannah after Marcus has stormed off. He became the seventh character to receive the tapes. The following day he tried to ask Hannah out, but made rude remarks and got turned down. Clearly, his ego bruised, he went out of his way to seek revenge on Hannah. He decides to steal her notes of encouragement from her. Each student had a paper bag where you could leave little comments of encouragement. Yet she saw Zach take hers. As a result, Hannah was cut off from a tiny piece of happiness from her day.
The eighth person to receive the tapes was Ryan. Hannah decided to try and trust others again yet her previous experience should have taught her better. Ryan stole a poem Hannah had written about her personal problems. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he then published the poem anonymously in the school newspaper. Unfortunately some students recognised Hannah’s handwriting and mocked her for it. This, for me, was a huge turning point for Hannah’s character. Her thoughts were not the object of scrutiny as well as her perceived actions.
“You can’t go back to how things were or how you thought they were. All you really have is now.”
Clay’s tape was different to the others. For a start, he didn’t make her feel suicidal like the rest of the characters. Hannah acknowledges that Clay is the nicest person she has ever met and wishes they had more time to get to know each other. She also apologises to him. At a party, the pair clicked and automatically got on. They talked and talked and eventually shared kisses. Yet, it all went wrong when Hannah started to think about Justin and the other boys she kissed. She sends Clay out of the room and cries.
Number ten: Justin. After Clay leaves, Hannah hides in a closet feeling emotional and drunk. She witnesses the rape of Jessica. Justin knew it was going to happen and just let it. Hannah struggles with her responsibility in this. She could have stopped it too, but she was in a state herself.
“All guys are arseholes. Some are arseholes all of the time, all are arseholes some of the time.”
The eleventh person to receive the tapes was Jenny. Jenny was a popular cheerleader from school who offered Hannah a lift home after the horrendous house party. It is on their way home that she mounts the pavement and hits a stop sign, giving Hannah the feeling that she wasn’t safe enough to drive. Hannah got out of the car and begged Jenny to ring the police. But, she never did. Later that evening, the lack of stop sign caused a car accident that killed one of their senior classmates.
Bryce. When my dislike of characters couldn’t get any more, Bryce rocks up. He is the next to receive the tapes. He did feature earlier in the novel (don’t want to spoil everything!) and again he messes with Hannah and makes assumptions because of the earlier rumours. He clearly takes advantage of her. Hannah is pretty much shut down, thinking about her life and her funeral.
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything…affects everything.”
The final person to receive the tapes was Mr Porter, Hannah’s teacher and school counsellor. There is a sense that this really is th last chance for Hannah. She even admits it herself. Hannah secretly records his conversation. It is here she expresses her desire to kill herself because of all of the events we learn about from the tapes. Mr Porter doesn’t offer the most sound advice, telling Hannah that she should press charges or move on.
Clay is broken and utterly exhausted by the end of the novel. He runs into another classmate, Skye. He has suspicions about her wellbeing. The novel ends with Clay reaching out to her.
I loved this book. It didn’t take me long to read it but that was probably down to the fact that I felt so strongly about all of the characters. I wanted to save Hannah, scream at most of the boys, kick Bryce in the balls, comfort Clay, shake Mr Porter for giving up on her so flippantly.
The narration of Hannah and Clay was clever. Even in Hannah’s death they are still linked; Clay understands her. The use of cassettes is quirky, retro almost. It takes me back to when I was a kid.
There are a lot of lessons you can take from this book, put best by Hannah herself:
“In the end, everything matters.”
Big love xx