February 17, 2014
A soft voice in his ear. The tape drones on, ever whirring. It carries Hannah Baker’s eerie voice as she narrates the events that lead up to her suicide. In Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, published in 2007 by Penguin Books, one can hear a side of the story rarely heard before; from the girl who committed suicide.
Throughout Hannah Baker’s posthumous recollections, Thirteen Reasons Why is unique because its chilling story is told through the perspective of the girl, after she died.
Clay Jensen was just a normal high school boy. He had always admired the mysterious Hannah Baker from a distance. But one day, weeks after Hannah overdosed on pills, ending her life, Clay receives a package. The package is full of tapes, the old kind that many people never use. After listening to the first few minutes of the tapes, Clay is mystified. The tape is Hannah’s narrations of how the people in her life affected her death. Why would Clay be on the tape? His few moments with Hannah were intense, but brief. As Clay listens to the tapes, Hannah’s story unravels. Her cold voice tells of first boyfriends, first kisses that lead to rumors; rumors that would ruin her reputation. Girls, boys, teachers; thirteen people that somehow influenced Hannah. As the stories grew darker and darker, the puzzle pieces come together. And Clay delves deeper into the tapes to find his name, and what he did to Hannah.
On blogcritics.org, the author of the review of Thirteen Reasons Why, expresses curiosity about Hannah Baker’s story. “About halfway through the story, I asked myself ‘Is this really it’? Could Hannah have actually killed herself over this sequence of embarrassing, but not devastating events? It took me some time to recognize this was part of the point”, says the author, Marina.
When I was reading this book, I too was unsure whether the events in Hannah’s life could really drive someone to suicide. But as the words floating from the taps got sadder and darker, I realized that Hannah’s view of herself and how others viewed her were different. The events in her life, while shocking and deeply impacting to her, did not affect her other peers. To them, Hannah was just another girl, with a bad reputation, and to her the world was ending because she lived in her own world surrounded by the taunts and torture of those people.
In The Guardian review of Thirteen Reasons Why, author Kathryn Hughes states the Hannah Baker’s character comes across as “vengeful harpy who takes pleasure in naming and shaming the people whom she blames for her end”. In this I disagree. I can see how one may think that Hannah is simply handing the blame to people, while she could have handled her problems herself. But to me, Hannah seemed like a girl who just needed help. She didn’t strike me as a vindictive person, though she grew angry as the bullying got more intense. Her recordings were a cry for help, but all to no avail, because the misery had consumed her and she took her life. The people she told did nothing to help her.
This book was poignant and touching, angry and upset, and there was an underlying sadness to Hannah’s tales. The book was extremely well written, and helped me to understand what goes on in someone’s head when they feel like committing suicide. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an intense and emotional story. The voice of Hannah Baker will reverberate in your head, and open your eyes to a teenager’s world of silence, sorrow, and suffering.