“Why would a dead girl lie? Answer: Because she can’t stand up”
Almost immediately after I finished reading The Way of Shadows, I started reading Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why. Oh boy that was a journey.
In all honesty, I finished it that night, in fact I’m writing this, that night. You won’t see this posted for a few days, it’s too soon after the last one, but I wanted to write this while it was fresh. I’m going to get my thoughts out of the way before I get into the book itself, and trust me, I have a lot of thoughts!
I feel like this book is very important, its message is something that people really need to pay attention to, and as someone who suffers from mental health issues, well, this book hits close to home. Really close to home. It deals with a lot, from guilt, to a bit of romance, sexual assault. The list goes on.
For myself, the message of this book is simple, everything, and I do mean everything, you do affects someone else so be careful, and if there’s someone you want to get to know, whether be it that you have a crush on them, or that you just think they might need a friend, do it! You could save a life.
I know this seems cliché but if Clay Jensen had just talked to Hannah Baker, and gotten to know her more than just the one conversation that they had, then maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have killed herself. Oh right, I hadn’t told you that part yet. Well let’s get into then.
I should warn you. This is not a happy story.
Thirteen Reasons Why is about Hannah Baker, but at the same time it’s about everyone else who had an impact on her life. Hannah was a high school student, new to town when rumours started to fly and soon she found herself with a reputation and her life spiraling out of control.
I could apologize for spoiling the fact that she killed herself, except that it’s not really a spoiler, in fact it’s in the synopsis of the book.
I actually ended up taking a lot of notes for this book, mainly because I wanted to make all of the connections myself. And boy are there a lot.
Let’s start with the basics shall we?
In the book, we learn that Hannah killed herself two weeks prior to the book by taking pills. She sends out 7 tapes, to thirteen people who had a part in the events leading up to her death and gives them two rules.
- You must listen to the tapes
- You must pass the tapes on to the next person.
Breaking the rules results in a second set of tapes being released publicly and then everyone involved is outed.
Initially I thought this was a great idea, really to show who was responsible and to show that its not always just one person. On the other hand, Hannah kind of gives off the feeling of being superior, putting the blame on everyone else, when some of the issues could have been avoided if she’d stepped up. But one does need to realize that this is a teenager, one who is depressed enough to take her own life and so the blame lies in many places.
There will be spoilers below, so beware readers!
First, there’s Justin Foley. Justin was her first kiss, but he betrayed her, after the kiss he’d told his friends that she’d let him feel her up and of course like any high school, rumours flew and suddenly she had a bad reputation. Later, we find out that one of his friends rapes another student, Jessica. This is where things get a little dicey for me. Hannah witnesses this, hiding in a closet at a party, and yet she does nothing to stop it. One could say she’s just a kid, and that she was scared, possibly even a little drunk, but it was no excuse. It’s not perfectly clear, or it might have been and I missed it, but I’m certain the guilt of witnessing that, played a big role in her death.
The second person is Alex Standall, Alex was one of her first friends, along with Jessica, however soon he ditched both of them. He created a list that didn’t help her reputation. It was a Who’s Hot, Who’s Not list where he voted her as the ‘Best Ass in Freshman Class’, well many of the events following this wouldn’t have happened without this list. Hannah knew it was a joke but it still made an impact. Why? Because people thought it meant they had the right to touch her. Which no one has the right to touch anyone unless they say so. Remember kids, no means no. Anyway, while at a store buying a chocolate bar, a student came in, smacked her on her rear and proceeded to tell her that he was only playing and to relax, as if it makes it okay. In Hannah’s mind the list gave him permission to do so.
The third person was her former friend Jessica Davis, yes the same Jessica from above who was raped. See the theme here? Everything ends up in a circle. Jessica and Hanna were introduced by a teacher, and like Hannah, she was on the list, directly opposite for having the worst butt. That wasn’t the main problem though, there was a rumour that Hannah and Alex had gotten together, Jessica liked Alex and for obvious reasons this caused a problem and Jessica ended up hitting Hannah.
Then there was Tyler. Tyler was just a creep. He was the photographer for the yearbook and one day she found him outside her window taking pictures of her. Yes, he was a peeping tom. Before this, Hannah would sleep with her blinds open just enough to see outside when in bed, where she’d watch the stars or lightning. He took that from her, her safe place was no longer safe and she had her blinds shut from then on.
Courtney Crimsen wasn’t a friend, but Hannah used her to help her catch Tyler. Courtney pretends to be nice but in reality is a pretty good backstabber. While at Hannah’s she looks in her drawer, no big deal right? Well she uses this when she invites Hannah to a party. How so? Well she tells everyone that Hannah has sex toys in her drawer. More rumours start of course.
Marcus Cooley paid for her phone number through a Valentine’s Day survey at school, the kind where you fill it out and it tells you who your top matches in the school are. I actually remember doing these in school. They planned to meet at Rosie’s Diner for a date, he ends up 30 minutes late and then proceeds to wedge her between himself and a wall, grabbing at her thigh before she’s able to get rid of him. He calls her a tease and leaves. What a guy…
Zach Dempsey shows up after Marcus leaves, apologizes and then pays for her milkshake. Later Hannah tells of him taking her complements in class, something that a teacher came up with. Everyone in her class were receiving notes except her and she catches him taking them. The compliments that she would have received were her hope. By taking these he took her hope away from her.
Ryan Shaver also stole from her, he made friends with her while at poetry nights, and later proceeded to steal her poetry for the school paper. This was read in class, the same day that she added a note to the teacher saying she wanted to kill herself. No one seemed to care and no one understood her poem either.
Clay Jensen…Clay is important. Other than Hannah, he’s the main character. The entire book is his experience through the tapes. He also doesn’t belong on the list in the way that you’d think. Clay did nothing wrong, Hannah even says so. He just simply was someone that she liked but didn’t get the chance to get to know. He also liked Hannah, but again didn’t get to know her because he wanted her to be the person he hoped she was, and not the person people said she was. While at a party they finally spoke, they got a long very well and he knew the rumours were just rumours. At one point they end up kissing. She thinks of her first kiss with Justin though and panics, because Justin ruined their first kiss and she thought she was adding to her bad reputation and Clay left because he didn’t know how to help. Clay’s sadness over her death is felt throughout the book, he keeps asking what he did to be on the list until finally she tells him that it was nothing. I was actually really glad for this because I really liked Clay as a character and didn’t want to see that he was really a bad person.
Jenny Kurtz is the next person. She offers to drive Hannah home from the party where Jessica is raped. Unfortunately, Jenny has been drinking and crashes her car into a stop sign. No one is hurt at that point, later though, an elderly man drives past, because there’s no stop sign he hits a kid and they end up dying. Jenny had refused to call 911 after her accident, if she had, the death may not have occurred. Hannah called 911 later to report it, just to find out about the secondary accident. The day of the student’s funeral, Hannah began thinking of her own death.
Then there’s Bryce Walker, now you may have noticed a theme of sexual assault in this book, and well I’m sorry to say it doesn’t stop here. Bryce, after the party where Jenny has her accident, is in a hot tub with a friend, Hannah joins them and Bryce proceeds to assault her. The problem I have with this though, is that Hannah never said no, she didn’t fight him, and she let it happen. One might not call it assault at this point, but she had just given up.
The last person on the tapes is, in my opinion, the most disappointing, and a situation I can relate to. I’ve struggled with mental health for a very long time, and one would assume that when you talk to people about it, and I mean professionals, they would want to help you. In my case my doctor took the knowledge of me having depression and told me to read a book…Which already wasn’t helping…but like myself, Hannah told someone she was struggling, she went to her teacher, and guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, who doesn’t really help, he tells her to confront her problems or move on. It is then that she makes the final decision to kill herself and leaves in a rush. Instead of following her, realizing that something was wrong, he didn’t follow. He failed her, like so many professionals fail people in the real world.
This was a story of blackmail, of a troubled student who couldn’t get the help that she needs, someone who was overwhelmed by the people who did her wrong and who treated her badly, someone who was let down by the very people who were in a position to help.
The really sad part? Stuff like this happens every day, and that’s why I think this book is a good lesson to everyone.
Be sure to check out the Thirteen Reasons Why website, where you can actually listen to the tapes.