Spoiler disclaimer: This post is only for those who have read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, those who do not mind being spoiled, and those who have already been spoiled by a younger sibling. (Younger sibling disclaimer: I have intimate knowledge of the peskiness of younger siblings, stemming from my experience being one, as well as having one.
I was going to start this discussion with something like “Every once in a while a book comes along…” but I’m not. If you’ve read Thirteen Reasons Why, you know the complexity that is this book. It cries out for discussion. It touches on rape, unintended consequences, suicide, depression, application of blame, rumor, right and wrong…the lists are almost endless. I didn’t quite know what I was in for when I read this book, but it tells as convoluted a story as the zigzags used to showcase the title.
If you’ve read the book–and I’m hoping you have, otherwise I’m really sure where this discussion is going to go–you know that the story is told in alternating narration by Clay Jenson and Hannah Baker. My first reaction to the idea of Hannah sending tapes to the thirteen people she blames for her decision to commit suicide was, frankly: That’s super sucky. I was imagining all the people on the list facing the rest of their lives carrying that guilt around. Now that I’ve completed this book, a part of me still feels that way. Obviously Hannah was seriously depressed, and it’s therefore probably useless to question it, but what right did she have to assign responsibility for her death to those thirteen people? As the story goes on, you learn that a lot of the people on the list have secrets to feel guilty about. Some of them have greater transgressions on their conscience, but those probably aren’t the people who are going to be the most affected by the things Hannah reveals. I mean, if Bryce is able to live with himself after he’s raped someone, I doubt he’s going to feel responsibly for Hannah’s suicide.
I have no intention of defending the casual (and often unintended) cruelty that fuels Hannah’s decision. Being an adolescent often sucks because of it, but I think few people are innocent of the indiscretion. Being a teenager is practically about doing things that you could later kick yourself for. When we’re teenagers, we’re on the cusp of adulthood, but remain in the protected state of childhood. Our parents are still responsible for us, and we are therefore shielded from the consequences of our actions. At least, to some degree, and for some more than others. I would agree that we should all be conscious of our actions, but I also think that the ability to predict those consequences is something that comes with age, and that a lot of it is learned during those painful teenage years. Studied cruelty is ever okay, and many of those cited by Hannah are guilty of worse. Then again some aren’t.
I also felt that not enough emphasis was placed on the fact that Hannah was not at all a reliable narrator. She tells the story from the perspective of one who is, basically, mentally ill. She’s incapable of any kind of objectivity. Of course, it’s impossible to be objective when telling a story, but Hannah is past the point where she can even try to be. For me, this was never more evident than in her telling of Jessica’s story. Hannah has no idea of what has happened in Jessica’s life that might have led her to react the way she did to the Best/Worst Ass thing. And what person has ever survived their teenage years without once apportioning blame to an innocent party?
Depression is known to be a very selfish condition, and Hannah is no exception. I don’t say that she has no reason to feel that her life has gone out her control, but I think all the things that happened to her were lent strength from the depression. Also, Hannah is the victim of her story, and gives no thought to the fact that if the tapes were to be released, they’d not only tell her story, they’d tell Jessica’s. Hannah won’t be alive to face the consequences of her confession. Jessica will. Even in death, Hannah is evading responsibility.
This story is also Clay’s, and he was a character I felt protective of almost immediately. He was largely the reason I was so angry at Hannah for blaming others for her decision to kill herself. In the end, we find that Clay isn’t really implicated as the other thirteen are–he’s more of a corollary reason. By the time we get to Clay’s part in Hannah’s story, it’s basically too late. Hannah’s no longer capable of reaching out, and she certainly can’t ask for help. As Clay himself points out, that’s where Hannah ultimately fails. It’s her choice to isolate herself. And sadly for Hannah, the people that are supposed to be there to force her to tell them what’s wrong (her parents) are completely absent. I think it’s their lack of a presence that was Hannah’s downfall even more than the lack of close friends. But I might be saying that because mymomandiarelikethis.
Finally, I want to talk about the last person on Hannah’s list: Mr. Porter. As a teacher myself, I’m a bit muddle about how I feel about this character’s role. Should he have come after her? Certainly, he should have contacted Hannah’s parents, and I can’t quite buy that he wouldn’t, especially given how well he handled things with Hannah. As a teacher, if you suspect a student is contemplating suicide, it’s incumbent on you to notify the parents. Duh. If he didn’t, then clearly he did fail Hannah. Mr. Porter’s failure bewilders me. Zach’s I get. The intensity of Hannah’s emotion would totally scare a teenage boy. But an adult? An educator? Not where I come from.
Looks like I’m winding down at last. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this book. As I said, there’s plenty of grist for the mill. So, have you read it? What were your thoughts? What emotions or issues did Thirteen Reasons Why stir in your breast?
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