Thursday, December 29, 2011
13 Reasons Why It's Your Fault
But I still don't like this book. Published four years ago, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is the kind of book that gains traction with teens, then their parents read it, and suddenly it's a thing. This year the EW published an article about how it's affecting readers. And now a website asks teenagers to write their responses to the book where they can benefit from each other's stories. So I ask again, how can I hate on a book that's practically its own "It Gets Better" movement?
The story is that a boy named Clay gets a package containing seven audio cassettes. When he listens to the first one, he's shocked to hear the voice of Hannah Baker, the girl at school who recently committed suicide. She pronounces that these tapes are her suicide note, and she's going to reveal the thirteen people that caused her suicide. The details of who did what to whom aren't important. Suffice it to say that she was harassed and ignored and she witnessed something horrible and did nothing to stop it. That's reason enough to kill yourself, right?
The whole cassette tape thing is a gimmick that doesn't work for me. In terms of story-telling, that is. Asher alternates between the voice of Hannah on the tapes and Clay's thoughts while he runs around town with headphones on, listening to these tapes like he's on a celebrity murder tour. The interruption of Hannah's narration so that we can feel bad for Clay is distracting. I don't care about Clay, especially since he's one of the people who Hannah talks about on the tapes. Why should I invest time in a guy who did something bad enough to cause a girl to commit suicide? And the reveal of what Clay did to be on the tapes is rather lame. It makes me wonder what the point was, which only reveals the story-telling gimmick for what it is.
The bigger problem with this book involves something I've already said at least twice.From the beginning of the book, Hannah blames these 13 people for her demise. And even there, right there, five words back, I used a euphemism to say that she took her own life. From the beginning of the book, Hannah, Clay, Asher, each of them are tiptoeing around the fact that Hannah chose to do this. It becomes very difficult to like her. You're supposed to feel sorry for her--I think. But I didn't. By the end you do see that she is suffering some kind of depression, but she clearly knows exactly what she's doing. She's making these others feel bad because they made her feel bad. Some of them are bad people and certainly deserve some retribution, but that's, like, three out of the thirteen. One guy is on the tapes because he has the audacity to ask her out in the hopes that they might actually hook up. Isn't he an awful person? The rest become victims just like she is a victim in her own mind, enough to drive her to suicide.
As you can see, I have little sympathy for someone who takes her own life. I understand the point of the book: actions have consequences, and if you're mean or outright evil, karma will come back to you in the form of someone's suicide note. No one wants to be in someone's suicide note, of course, but what point does a sermon in novel-form serve?
ALERT: Now, if I haven't completely spoiled the story for you yet, and you think you would like to check out the book without knowing the last chapter, skip the next paragraph. The snarkiness continues down there.
As a teacher, what sticks in my craw the most is the last bit where Hannah comes right out and blames her English teacher/counselor for her ultimate decision. She records a conversation she has with him where she hints at her thoughts about ending her life. The teacher tries to get her to talk, to come out and tell him what she is feeling and why, but she refuses. She walks away, and then she accuses the teacher of putting the final nail in her coffin because he doesn't chase after her. How unfair is that? She walks away, so he fails the test he didn't know he was taking. I'm already blamed for all kinds of things as a teacher, and now if a student refuses to open up to me, even when, especially when, I've tried, I'm supposed to take the blame for her choices? I don't think so.
I admit it's provocative. As I read the book, I felt things, and if that's what a book is supposed to do, even if you hate the things you feel, I have to say Asher is successful. And I can totally see how this kind of story can help: everyone needs a good dose of responsibility for others. But the ultimate lesson here is one of victimhood. Victims can do whatever they want; they have little responsibility for themselves. And I don't buy it.
What are your thoughts? Have you read this book? Am I totally off-base?
I understand if you're repulsed by my dislike for this book. The book that helped me through high school was Catcher in the Rye, and I can't stand anyone who doesn't like that book. Bunch of phonies, they are.