To tell a compelling story…

4 Thumbs Up to Thirteen Reasons Why

Posted on: February 17, 2011

Hi! This month, the Book Hungry team reviews Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.  Lots of spoilers but I think we did a fair job in teasing rather than fully disclosing.  Who’s “we”, you ask? I’m so glad you asked. This month, I have a Very Special Guest blogger, who I shall reveal shortly. First, a brief introduction:

In Jay Asher’s debut novel, a box of audio tapes is gift wrapped and delivered to Clay Jensen, the novel’s narrator. Curious, Clay rushes to his garage, unearths an old cassette player and hears this on the first of the seven tapes in the box:

“Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

Hannah, a high school junior, has not been in school. Rumor has it that she overdosed on pills. There was no funeral.  And now Clay has her suicide “note.” Seven tapes, two reasons on each tape except for the last. “A Baker’s Dozen,” Clay makes a weak joke, shocked that he’s on Hannah’s tragic list.

The novel is chillingly written in both Clay’s and Hannah’s voices – Hannah’s beyond-the-grave commentary is written in italics with Clay’s horrified reactions written in regular font.

Here’s a cheat sheet of the other reasons.

  1. Justin Foley – Hannah’s first kiss who tells his friends a much different story.
  2. Alex Stendall – Writer of a Best/Worst List. Hannah is labeled Best Ass – an unwelcome distinction that has horrible repercussions.
  3. Jessica Davis – The first friend Hannah makes in her new town. She later wounds Hannah deeply.
  4. Tyler Down – Tyler should have been named “Tom.”
  5. Courtney Crimsen –  A good actress who used Hannah for her own schemes.
  6. Marcus Cooley  – The date who stood her up and then humiliated her.
  7. Zach Dempsey – a guy who stole something Hannah needed.
  8. Ryan Shaver –  a guy who stole something Hannah wrote.
  9. Clay Jensen – the narrator. Hannah admits he does not belong on this list. So why is he here?
  10. Justin Foley – Justin’s encore on Hannah’s list is heartless.
  11. Jenny Kurtz –  She did something that caused a tragedy and then covered it up.
  12. Bryce Walker – Um. A scary guy who fulfills everything everyone said about Hannah and she does not stop him
  13. Mr. Porter – Hannah’s Guidance Counselor and English teacher who Hannah saved for last.

I’m excited and proud to introduce you to my sixteen-year-old son, Chris.  Chris read this month’s selection, so I thought it would be fun if he reviewed it with me.  Chris, however, didn’t think that was such a cool idea. At least, not at first.

“Say ‘hi’ to my blog readers, Chris.”

“Hey.” Chris jerks his head in a tight nod of acknowledgment.

“So what did you think of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?”

“It was good.” He rubs his palms over his jeans and shrugs.

“I thought so, too. But why was it good?”

Chris shrugs again, avoids eye contact.

I shift gears. “You know, it kind of reminds me of something Dad says whenever a plane crashes. (Dad is an aircraft mechanic.) It’s never just one thing.”

Chris nods, and quickly catches my thought. “Yeah. It’s like a bunch of things that all go wrong. Take one by itself and the plane would have been fine.”

“Right,” I smile. “So what do you think about the things that happened to Hannah?”

Chris shrugs again. “They didn’t seem that bad to me. But I guess over time, they all added up. Her impression of herself steadily eroded.”

I stare at my son. “Um. Right. That’s… that’s a really great insight.” I stammer. “Hannah called it a snowball effect in the book.”

“Yeah,” Chris agrees. “Once it got rolling there was no stopping it. There’s no erasing a rumor once it spreads. You either deal with it or it controls you. Most of what happened to Hannah was out of her control, except for the stuff at the end.”

“Do you hear a lot of rumors at school like the one Justin told about Hannah?”

Chris nods.

“Do you believe them?”

“Sometimes,” he admits. “It depends on who’s spreading them. Some guys will go, ‘I hit that’ when a girl goes by and I can believe it because there are girls who actually chase hot guys just so they’ll talk about them that way. They think it makes them popular.” He rolls his eyes.

I shudder inside but say nothing.  Does I hit that mean what I think it means?

“But most of the time, I don’t listen to the rumors.” Chris adds.

Wow. That’s good to hear. I decide to dig a bit deeper. “So for the rumors you do believe… the ones where the girls think they’ll be popular if they let a guy ‘hit that’… what do you think of these girls?”

Chris rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to be near anybody who goes to that much trouble to look good in someone else’s eyes.”

My first reaction to Chris’ words was relief. I wouldn’t want him hanging out with people like this. But then, Hannah crosses her arms in my mind and smirks. “See how easy it is?” She asks.  So I prod Chris a little. “But you can see how easy it is for rumors to hide the truth. You said it yourself; it depends on who’s doing the talking.”

Chris nods. “It definitely worked on her friend, Jessica, the one who believed the worst of her. The rumor was what got the snowball rolling. Then, the best ass – Oops. Sorry.” Chris flashes a grin at me and I wave him on, more interested in hearing his opinions than correcting a minor slip of the tongue. “I mean, being on that dumb list made guys like Bryce think they can get away with anything. And then, what Marcus did…  Hannah knew nobody respected her and pretty soon, she didn’t either. ”

I’m reminded again that it’s not just one thing that went wrong, it’s the sum of many.  “Why do you think Hannah made those tapes?”

Chris has a good answer. A great answer, actually. “Recording the tapes could be stress relieving – it’s one thing to record them but a whole other thing to actually send them. If I received them, I’d be beside myself with grief and guilt. If I hurt somebody, it’s not on purpose. Never my goal. When I put my sneakers on every morning, I prep for a happy day, not to hurt people. If I got tapes from someone who killed herself, I’d be distraught – not enough to totally ruin my life but I’d always second guess my actions, knowing everything I do has a consequence. I’ll always think things through carefully. It would probably identify all my faults and flaws so I could be better. She created the tapes so people would know she really did kill herself because of what they did, in case her death didn’t make the news or was covered up. I think it was a mixture of revenge and also, a hope that everyone would think twice in how they treat the next social misfit.”

A hope…  My jaw is swinging in the breeze when I realize Chris didn’t just read this book, he dissected it, so to give myself time to recuperate and stop the gushing I’m about to do, I play devil’s advocate. “Yeah, but come on. If people are this mean in real life, do you think some audio tapes are really going to make them better people?”

“Yeah, some of them,” he says, and tries to convince me he’s right. “Remember Clay said Justin and Jessica showed up at school looking sick or something? That was after they got the tapes and sent them to the next person. They listened, really listened to them. I think Alex did, too. But I don’t think Courtney would. Pretty sure Bryce wouldn’t.”

“Okay,” I ask the big question. “Why did she send the tapes to Clay?”

And again, Chris has insight that not only stuns me, it fills me with joy. He leans forward, starts using his hands to make a point.

“She knew Clay would be hurt. She wanted to save him from the pain listening to the tapes and knowing what she did caused him, so she tells him he doesn’t belong on the tapes. Because by that time, she’s already made her choice. She doesn’t admit it. She may not even have actually known it, but she was already beyond help. But Clay should have stayed in that room with Hannah at the party. He should have given her some time alone to calm down, and then gone back so that she knew he was there for her. If he had done that, at least two or three of the tapes that came after might not have happened. If that were me, I’d have stayed there until she literally pushed me out of the room and then I would have walked her home, you know, to make sure she was safe since she was so upset.”

I beam at my son.

“What?”

“You make me very proud.”

Chris grins.  (And when I read this post back to him for his approval, he grinned just as I read, “Chris grins” and then burst into laughter that I had him so well pegged.)

He’s satisfied, but I’m not. “I have to admit, I’m angry that Clay didn’t take the tapes to someone NOT on the list, someone like the principal or even the police. What do you think?”

Chris waves me off. “Mom, Clay couldn’t think that far ahead, he was too upset by what he heard on those tapes.”

“I see. You’re saying that’s an adult reaction, not a kid’s.”

“Right.”

Heh. I hadn’t thought of it like that. And now that he pointed it out, I think he has a point. “Okay, overall, you liked the book?”

“Yeah, I liked the book. It was great. It gets you thinking. When it ended, I was sad it didn’t go on. The ending was cool in how Clay ran after Skye. He probably wouldn’t have thought to do that if he hadn’t heard the tapes. They made him reconsider how he dismissed someone who could really use a friend.”

Our Rating:

Two thumbs up from both Mom and Chris. But don’t take our word on it. Go read what the rest of the Book Hungry team has to say by following the links to their blogs.

I flash my son a huge grin. “I guess we’re done. Thanks for helping me review this book.”

“No problem. It was fun. A little Mommy and Me bonding time.” Chris laughs. I can’t help but laugh, too. Because we did a lot more than review a book.

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16 Responses to "4 Thumbs Up to Thirteen Reasons Why"

This is so sweet:) Love hearing the insight of a teen on a book that has struck a nerve in so many. Actions DO have consequences.

Aw, thanks. He’s a keeper! I agree, actions have consequences and this book did a great job of popping the bubble each of us so often has surrounding us. The world is not ours alone. I’m proud that my son realized that.

Fantastic perspective on this book. Thank you both!

Patty, you’re raising one fine young man there. 🙂

Thanks, Linda. I must agree, he’s a fine young man. 🙂

Great idea for the review, Patty. 🙂

One thing, can I be Chris when I grow up?

Nope. There’s only one Chris! But I’ll adopt you!

what a duo! what a team! what a charming review.

a fine job reviewing AND raising your boy, patty.

That was great, both of you. I enjoyed your review about ten times as much as I enjoyed the book. :^) Thanks for introducing Chris’s perspective! Definitely a great idea for a review, especially for a book that’s so very focused on communication.

That’s exactly why I asked him to contribute. It’s a YA story about some very heavy issues and I needed to see how he was handling the issues he faces daily. Are they as serious as those in the book? God, I hope not. But it’s comforting to know that he’s aware they easily could be.

Patty, I loved this, your son’s insight, AND now I really want to read the book. Mission accomplished!

Thanks, Trisha! Let us know what you think. Not all members of our book club liked the story.

Great book and I loved your questions for Chris…how you drew him out. You’re a natural teacher.

I take that as the highest compliment! Thanks, Jeannie.

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I'm in the process of transferring To Tell a Compelling Story over to my new website: www.pattyblount.com
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Hi! Welcome to my blog. I’m Patty.

I'm a writer represented by Denise Little, The Ethan Ellenberg Agency. I love to tell stories, to boast about my sons, to indulge in a serious chocolate obsession. (I often combine these passions.)

During the day, I write software user guides, but at night, I let my hair down... and write whatever I want. (I know. You expected something else. Sorry.) I'm currently working on a YA story about sexting gone horribly bad called SEND. I use this blog to explore my passions.

Contact me at pattyblount3 at gmail dot com.

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