Content Warning: This book is about suicide.
I first read this book in 2009 during my senior year of college while I was living in an off-campus apartment with two friends. It was a weird time in my life. I spent a lot of time sitting in Barnes and Noble, hoping no one would notice me — because I had been banned from the Augusta B&N for “vandalizing books” by putting nerdfighter notes in copies of Paper Towns in October 2008 — or locked in my room in the dark.
I’m not sure if I’m banned from all Barnes and Nobles or just the on in Augusta, but I think the ban has expired as I wasn’t vandalizing books, and it’s been 9 years.
This book was on a display of YA “must reads” at Barnes and Noble. I read a lot of books sitting in the back corner of the B&N in the sexuality section because no one ever used that plug and it was kind of close to the bathroom. That’s probably not allowed, but no one bothered me. I read about half of this book in the corner before I bought it.
This book meant so much to me. I’ve never read a book like it before. Hannah’s story impacted me in extreme ways. Seeing what was left behind when Hannah ended her life has stuck with me for a long time. Suicide, I think, has been romanticized in YA literature in a way; the idea that ending it will somehow make it better–a release of some kind, your suffering will end if you end. Thirteen Reasons Why didn’t do that. I think that maybe Hannah saw it that way, but through Clay, we see the flip side of it, the terrible deep hole that death leaves. Seeing the devastation was what made this story stick with me.
When I saw that 13 Reasons was coming to Netflix, I was worried that it was going to be a movie, and was nervous that they were going to try to shove Hannah’s whole story into 2 hours; finding out it was becoming a series, I wasn’t as nervous about it. I’m not usually a fan of books turned into films, but I think justice was done to this story. The producers, writers, and directors of the Netflix series cared about the story. That was very evident watching it.
The small changes, expanding Tony’s character, the re-arranging of some of the tapes so they make more sense in the sequence of the story, adding the subplot with Hannah’s parents, work watching the story. It’s not just about Clay this way. I think that expanding Tony, especially, added the much need grounding to the story. It pulls the mind out of the sadness of Hannah’s tapes. I found the scenes where the students are giving depositions was very powerful. I think they got what Hannah was telling them through her tapes. Of course, Hannah’s suicide was Hannah’s fault. No one that she named in the tapes were to blame for what she did. But I think everyone that listened to the tapes was able to see that how we treat people affects them in ways we can never understand.
I think that Asher did the right thing with using cassette tapes. Ten years ago when this book came out, my brother was about the same age as the kid in the story so he would know what a cassette tape was and it wouldn’t be old technology, but not so outdated that it would be hard to find something to play it on. I still had a radio with a cassette player, I was still making mixed tapes for my car in 2007. In 2017, I feel like many of teens in the series wouldn’t know what it was and how to play it. I read something, I feel like it’s in my copy of the book where Jay Asher says that he chose to use old technology so that the book didn’t date itself. That was so brilliant. I think that writers try to make their books fit into the current time and especially now, it can date a book very quickly. I think that a book in 2007 may use CDs and now no one uses CDs even doing that could have dated the book in an extreme way even 10 years later.
One thing that I really loved was the subtle lighting differences. When watching the flashbacks, the story is lit with warmer coolers. When we are watching the present it’s more blue and cooler colors. I think that it’s so smart. Light verse darkness. The harsh light of reality (the present) verse the brightness of what Hannah is talking about. Clay’s world, and honestly all of Liberty High, are living in the harsh light of the life after the death of Hannah Baker. Clay’s version of Hannah will always be seen with through rose colored glasses. I like that choice by the series makers.
Tony as a character in the show was so powerful. He feels a little bit like a Fairy Godmother of the tapes. I like to think that many of the listeners of the tapes had the same experience listening to them as Clay did– especially Jessica and probably Sherri. I like to think that Tony was there for all of them. Helping them get through it.
This story needs to be discussed. High school is hard. Life is hard. What I like about the end of the story is Clay reaching out to Skye, seeing many of the signs that he missed with Hannah in Skye and trying to stop it. Believe me, having one person show interest can make all the difference. Hannah reached out so many times, but she did it in a way that looking back people can see that she was screaming, but at the time she’s just Hannah the drama queen, making everything about her.
No one knew what Bryce did to her and others until after Hannah died. She didn’t tell anyone so she couldn’t get help. No one can help if you don’t ask for help. I think that’s what the part with the guidance counselor feels so off to me. She didn’t tell him what was happening, but she expects him to follow her out of his office, expects him to read her mind. She had made up her mind at that point. Nothing Mr. Porter did was going to save her.
There is so much blame and guilt that goes along with suicide. The survivors, the people that are left behind when someone gives up, have survivors guilt. I know I feel it. I blamed myself all the time for the death of a close friend of mine, he didn’t commit suicide exactly, but still, I feel like I didn’t do enough. Every single person who received those tapes felt Hannah’s death before those tapes showed up. They had all been friends with her at some point. Hannah sat in her room and decided that it was their fault. No one touched by suicide needs to be told it’s their fault. We already know. But at the same time, it’s so important to know that it’s not anyone’s fault except the person who committed the act.
I would love to hear what other people think about this book and the Netflix series. I would love to discuss it. I’ve seen a lot of mixed feelings about it on Facebook. The series is pretty graphic, and I don’t necessarily think they needed to include the most graphic of the images, but I think there was a point to it.
Let me know what you thought about this story.
Until next time Internet