Whatever the medium, I find myself drawn to the controversial. It’s why I subject myself to movies I cannot rightly discuss in polite company, such as A Serbian Film, and why Asher’s debut novel leapt to the top of my reading list. That and the local library is astronomically low on worthwhile reading material. I almost missed out on it, though, if only temporarily. First learned, via a sign on the wall, that I had all of ten minutes before the young adult section became off limits to my grown adult self, resulting in my search being a bit of a race against time. Not that I thought any of the librarians had it in them to forcibly eject me from the room, or that they were the sort to not allow people a short grace period. They radiate hatred, though, so I wouldn’t put it past them. Then I forgot I’d already reversed Asher’s first and last name when I typed it into my phone for easy reference, causing me to look in the Js as opposed to the As. But, to be safe, and because I refused to walk back home empty handed, I searched the library catalog and quickly realized my mistake. As I was checking out, I felt an unwarranted paranoia, concerned that I would be dealt with somehow for entering the young adult section so near the cut-off. Just another day in my overly worrisome mind.
Following that bit of drama, I put in an inter-library loan request for some books, my plan being to make Thirteen Reasons Why last until the three of them came in. I should’ve known better than to think I could exert any sort of self-control, especially with so short a book. Once I exited the building, I began reading almost immediately and didn’t stop until I was finished a couple hours later. It would’ve taken less time still if it were not for the clumsiness with which Asher hopped back and forth between Clay’s narration and Hannah’s tapes. For parts of the story, there was enough of a disconnect between the two that it was as if they were telling two separate stories. By inflicting her tapes upon him, Hannah implicates Clay, leading him to believe he helped motivate her to kill herself somehow, a fact one expects would never stop weighing on his mind; yet there are stretches where his narration kind of wanders off on its own, no longer tethered to the tapes that we’re supposed to believe weigh heavily on his mind. The further into the story you get, though, the less of a problem this is. This is helped along by Hannah’s tapes becoming a greater focal point as the story moves along. Initially, Clay frequently stops the tapes, conflicted. He eventually abandons this trepidation of his, to a large extent at least, and we’re provided lengthier swatches of Hannah’s story and fewer of Clay’s jarring interjections.
It’s at this point, when Clay is sidelined, somewhat, that Asher finds his footing. How Clay, professional good guy, fit in with the others Hannah was using those tapes to blame didn’t interest me nearly as much as how the combined effects of all these people pushed her to do what she did, which is take her own life. Whether you knew the person or not, suicides can’t help but leave you asking this simple question: why? And Hannah was prepared to answer that with thirteen separate reasons that, together, amounted to one big, inevitably insurmountable reason. If only Clay would stop yammering about long enough for her to get to them. In the end, those reasons might seem insufficient to the outside observer – as many readers were left asking themselves “that’s all?” Except that is only true to life, I think. Suicide notes, even ones as comprehensive as Hannah’s, can hardly begin to tell why in such a way that others can understand. People like to think that, by reading (or listening to) their words, we’ll be granted the key to the ruined city inside their head and everything will be illuminated; however, the reality is that we can no more understand the real cause of that destruction than your average person can look at a building from the outside and determine from there how it was constructed. What might seem inconsequential to you or I could mean the world – or, rather, the end of the world – to someone else.
I myself am no stranger to feeling like Hannah, alone and alienated, nor am I unfamiliar with thoughts of suicide. Looking at my own reasons, I can see how the same people who questioned how justified Hannah was saying the same things about me. I’m aware now that I was being a tad dramatic, similar to Hannah. Except that’s because I refused to let myself give in completely, something Hannah and many others find themselves incapable of doing. To them, envisioning an end to this desperation is an impossibility, not unlike us understanding why that is. They hold steadfast in the belief that things won’t get better, further fueling their desperation, and eventually causing them to try and bring an end to it the only way they know how, by killing themselves. And nothing is too inconsequential to cause or to end this destructive line of thinking; this is the moral of the novel. Stop judging Hannah for a moment and think instead of the Hannahs in your life and what you can do to prevent them from succumbing to the same fate.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.