I know I know I am pretty late to the party (almost ten years) but better now than never, right? So, here we go:
Blurb: You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
Note: This review will contain spoilers about both, the show and the book… and it will be long.
I’ve been sitting on this review for over a week now. This book, this show…this whole concept and its execution has made me so undecided. On the one hand I can see how it has gotten an important dialogue going but at the same time I am not oblivious to how faulty its execution and message is with regards to not only mental illness but suicide as well.
The producers of the show and the writer of the book have by and large marketed this material as something that centers around Bullying more than anything else but that begs the question just because it is meant to portray the negative effects of bullying on a teenage girl’s psyche are we supposed to discount the suicide or the resulting depression from it? Is their just treatment not a priority at all?
It wasn’t that there was nothing good about the show/book. Of course there was. It is a well written book, I especially really liked how the disastrous effects of cyber bullying were depicted. Hannah narrates in the very first tape how Justin Foley shared online an inappropriate picture of Hannah that set in motion the gradual wreckage of her reputation at school, how subsequently her picture with Courtney shared by Tyler did further irreversible damage to her social image. These things not only were dealt with very realistically showing how even minor actions like sharing a picture on social media can have a horrible effect on someone’s personal life but also they were a credible attempt at educating teenagers on the downsides of internet, on the necessities of being careful and responsible. The snowball effect, the process of every little thing coming together and weighing down so much on a person that they descend into depression was another plus in my opinion, however I do feel it could have been dealt with better. The show has gone ahead and remedied the lack of diversity that was in the book, so kudos for that. But these are the only positives that I can think of. Rest is just a huge mass of critique and questions.
Let’s take it in points:
- No mention of Mental Illness: The show or the book never talks about mental illness specifically. Hannah is never diagnosed with actual terms that would let the audience/readers know that this is a legit problem and there is professional help out there for such things. She never goes to find help outside. The very word ‘depression’ is never used when clearly along with being the victim of bullying Hannah was suffering from depression as well. Pull up any logistics that have to do with teen suicide or suicide in general and you’d see that there is almost always a direct connection with depression in such cases. Throughout the narrative the idea that Hannah could have been ‘saved‘ had she had any friends or if she could have just talked to someone is impressed upon again and again, while all that is good and I do agree support is necessary, it would have made more sense had they at least discussed what Hannah needed more than anything else was professional help.
- Glorification of Suicide: This little point had kept me up at night, you guys. For the longest time I couldn’t decide on a definite answer but in the end I think it is affirmative. This book does glorify suicide. Suicide is something that is an end, more than anything else. Nothing exists after it, at least for the person in question and this point needs to be hammered home pretty good. The message should be loud and clear, if you go through with the act, life will end for you, no one else but you. Others will live, they will move on and they’ll see things and life in a way that you’d never have a chance to. In 13RW no such thing happens, Hannah dies but she still lives through the tapes. People who bullied her feel guilty. She is celebrated by the school as a martyr. People who didn’t pay attention to her now wish they had. No one dares speak ill of her because she is dead. In short she becomes a hero, someone glorified. She gets everything that she wanted while she was alive. Really? Is that how they want to showcase the whole thing?
- The Revenge approach: Hannah’s suicide throughout the narrative is something that comes off more as a giant “screw you” rather than what usually the reason for suicides is, which is utter hopelessness. People kill themselves because they feel that life will never get any better, they feel like the rut they are in is not something that can be fixed, they don’t do it because they want revenge on other people or want to show them how much they wronged you. It’s like the whole point of Hannah’s death was when I’ll die then they’ll realize. How screwed up of a depiction is that? What’s even more messed up is that it happens exactly how Hannah thought it would thus justifying her whole means to an end process.
- Time for tapes but not for Notes? : I didn’t like Hannah’s character. She is not a likable protagonist but maybe that’s how the author wanted it to be. However what really got to me was how she had all these thoughts and planning in place to leave behind thirteen detailed tapes for the people she hated and yet she didn’t sit down for two minutes and pen down a single note for her parents. Hannah’s parents were absolutely missing in the book (something that seemed hugely odd) thankfully in the show that was remedied, their pain is so aptly shown, especially through Hannah’s mother. There is a part where she tells Clay that she and her husband never got a note…these people who loved Hannah, who Hannah presumably loved back didn’t so much as got a last note from her. Hannah blames so many people of being inconsiderate towards her feelings but isn’t that how she treated her own parents?
- The reasons that were sometimes not qualifiable as reasons: Bryce (who raped both Hannah and Jessica), Justin (who shared Hannah’s picture, spread rumors about her and allowed the abhorrent rape to happen), Courtney ( who send douchebags Hannah’s way just to save face), Marcus (who touched Hannah inappropriately thinking she was ‘easy‘)… These people deserve to be there on the list but people like Zach (who stole Hannah’s encouragement notes), Ryan (who published her poem) or Jessica (who stopped being friends with Hannah out of a misunderstanding) these people did not deserve the blame of a person’s death. I mean putting someone’s name on a list no matter how objectifying it is should not be considered in the same league as something as serious as rape.
- Pot kettle black? : Hannah felt so guilty after Sherri knocked down that stop sign that it became one of her reasons to kill herself yet she didn’t hesitate to put these thirteen people on the tapes that outright blamed them of killing her. Granted some of them deserved it but what about the others? What if Jessica commits Suicide after this thinking she caused a girl to kill herself and knowing that she was raped and her boyfriend was complicit in the act, wouldn’t it be Hannah’s fault then?
- Clay: God, this whole bringing Clay into the mess thing really pissed me off. That guy didn’t do anything wrong yet Hannah brought him into the tapes. She let him stew for hours wondering why he was on there. Wasn’t that bullying? Wasn’t that wrong?
- Target Demographic: This show is meant for fifteen to seventeen year olds… this kind of depiction where suicide is glorified, where reasons are sometimes absolutely petty, where authority figures are shown incapable of helping the ones in need, is not what this generation who already is known for wallowing in self pity needs.
I have more to say, there are even more things that I wanted to object to but I guess if you’ve made it this far you get the gist of what I felt. This book whether you like it or not is a compelling read. It’s written well. It’s thought provoking even if the thought is to tear it open and point out all the flaws.