Thursday, May 06, 2010

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Wow. Just. . .wow.

Sure there are some weaknesses. Sure there are things I could poke at. But really? They don't matter. Because this is a powerful book and absolutely worth reading. Worth buying and reading and keeping and passing on and recommending and then reading again.

I don't often say that. Anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm actually pretty hard to please. (But fair! I try really hard to be fair!) And I want to be pleased, I really do. It's just that there are so few there that blow my socks off.

This one did.

Good guy (and first person narrator) Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a package with no return address. Inside are seven audio tapes. Audio tapes? Who uses them any more? Why would anybody be sending a package of audio tapes?

The slightly antique nature of the medium is intentional. Hannah Baker, enigmatic classmate, has committed suicide, and these are her stories of the thirteen reasons why she took her life. Each one is a story about a specific person who hurt her, and the ongoing and cumulative affect of each hurtful thing. No one thing was enough, but each one lead to another one, and by the end, she was tired of fighting. So she made these tapes, and sent them out.

Jay Asher got the idea for the format of this book from working in a museum, where patrons could get audio tours. Hang the player around the neck, push the "play" button and hear a story while looking at the work, move on to the next one. It translates incredibly well to this story--Hannah Baker's thirteen stories are each tied to a location, and as Clay listens to the tapes, he moves around their town.

I literally just put this book down, and I'm not able to completely articulate what makes this book so powerful and effective. But somehow, Jay Asher nails high school--smothering and judgmental, the way teens are painfully self-obsessed, and yet struggling to be better people. The mix of weakness and strength, the bullies who take what they want and the people who are afraid to stop them. The strange sense that one has power to do ill, but is powerless to stop it. The way teens are both too constrained and too free.

I am going to have to come back to fully review this book, but don't wait.

Go read it yourself.

We can talk about it.

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